Most of us don't like talking about death and dying with our loved ones, especially when it involves details about our last wishes. And those who aim to live a sustainable lifestyle may be surprised to know that what you decide to do with your body after you die might not be environmentally friendly.
While there are options for green burials and flameless cremation, there's another choice becoming more available in the United States: human composting.
Human composting, also referred to as natural organic reduction, is a natural method that returns your body back to the soil in a more sustainable manner. In mid-September 2022, California became the fifth state to legalize human composting. The law will go into effect in 2027, and residents there will follow those in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington who can already reduce their environmental impact when they say their final farewells.
Human composting isn't too different from composting in your garden. Recompose, which works in all four states where the process is legal, is also working legalize the process in other states. Their process works like this.
First, the staff takes your body — or the body of your loved one — and places it in a vessel and covers it in a mixture of different organic materials, such as alfalfa, sawdust, straw and wood chips. They close the vessel for 30 days so microbes can decompose and break down the body and organic materials.
After about a month, the body decomposes and becomes a rich, nutrient soil. The staff then removes that from the vessel and allows it to cure for two to six more weeks. Family members can then choose to either receive the compost of their loved one or have Recompose use it in a designated piece of land. Return Home, which is based in Washington state, offers clients a similar service.
Why Human Composting?
Human compost is like typical compost and can be added directly to the soil to benefit plants and trees. Some companies offer the opportunity to spread the compost in dedicated and preserved spaces.
So before you get squeamish and start asking why someone would want to be turned into compost, just consider this. Cremation and burial aren't so kind to the environment. Cremation is often considered more sustainable than a standard burial because cremation doesn't require as many natural resources— there's no wood for a casket, no concrete for a headstone and no embalming fluids for the body. But cremation still has a carbon footprint — it emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Cremation requires a lot of energy to incinerate a body. According to Chemical and Engineering News, a single cremation can put as much as 418 pounds (190 kilograms) of carbon dioxide into the air. That's about the same output as driving 470 miles (756 kilometers).
And standard burials can be even worse. Those embalming fluids we just mentioned, including ethanol, formaldehyde and methanol, can leach into the soil, affecting waterways and animals who live nearby. Plus, many cemeteries rely on pesticides and herbicides to maintain their pristine and peaceful atmospheres.
How Much Does Human Composting Cost?
Dying isn't cheap. Just like costs for cremation and burial can vary, so does the cost for human composting. Prices and services will depend based on the company you choose and the services you select. The standard "Terramation" service at Return Home in Washington starts at $4,950 with additional fees, depending on the family's needs. Recompose has a flat rate fee of $7,000, which also includes an online obituary and funeral documents. Both companies allow families to choose pre-planning packages so they can prepare their funerals ahead of time, as well.