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The phrase “human composting” sounds like something out of dystopian sci-fi without any context – but it’s a new and green way to put the dead to rest. The term describes turning leftovers into healthy soil and it is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. In addition, the process has just been legalized in California and will soon be legal in New York.
According to Axios, Recompose is a Seattle funeral home that is at the forefront of promoting human composting as a form of burial. Funerals held there have traditional elements; however, instead of taking their final rest in a satin-lined box, the deceased takes center stage in a “lay-in” ceremony. In a process Recompose calls “natural organic reduction,” materials such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw are placed around the body and then sealed inside, launching the process that turns a corpse into soil.
Axios’ reporting suggests that human composting may be slightly cheaper than a typical burial. For composting, transportation, and soil donation, Recompose ceremonies cost $7,000, making the process slightly more expensive than cremation (median cost: $6,515) and less expensive than a typical burial, which averages $8,805.
Families can take home earth urns for ecological use – garden soil, for example – and anything left over is donated by the funeral home to various causes. Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, tells Axios that while “Earth on one hand is very sacred and special to the people who are still alive,” it is also “just Earth.”
“And so to be able to get back to Earth in a meaningful way,” Spade continues, “to the forest, through our conservation partners, I think that’s my preferred option.”
More than just adding fresh topsoil to areas in need, human composting also reportedly reduces the usual carbon emissions from traditional processes by 1.2 tons.
There’s probably a much better term for returning to Earth in such a literal way than “human composting,” but according to Axios, it’s not as off-putting as you might expect. Katrina Spade tells the site that Recompose has held 200 composting ceremonies and 1,200 customers are paying monthly installments for future services.