By Bryan Nelson
Many people like the idea of planting a tree next to the grave of a loved one so their bodies can live on, in a sense, by providing nutrients that get absorbed by the tree. But would you ever want to forgo the casket and the grave, and have your remains directly transformed into compost?
Washington, which earlier this year became the first state to legalize human composting, is giving residents options beyond burial or cremation.
“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the bill, told NBC News when the bill was passed.
As a result of that legislation, the first human composting site is on a path to open its doors in spring 2021 in Seattle.
The law allows for the “recomposition” of human remains, a process that speeds up decomposition and turns the remains into nutrient-packed soil, which can be used as the family sees fit. That’s where Seattle’s Recompose gets its name and its mission: “Recompose takes guidance from nature. At the heart of our model is a system that will gently return us to the earth after we die.”
The facility, which looks nothing like a traditional funeral home, will house 75 hexagonal-shaped vessels where bodies will be stored for decomposition. The breakdown takes about 30 days using wood chips, alfalfa and straw.
Cycle of life?
While some people might think there’s something eerily cannibalistic about eating crops that were planted in grandma’s remains, it’s also a way of perpetuating the cycle of life that all of our food grows from. This is the mental hurdle that has likely prevented human composting from being legalized until recently.
Recomposition does have some practical benefits that are worth considering as well. For one, it’s more economical. A traditional burial costs an average of $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Recomposition will cost around $5,500. Moreover, composting is far healthier for the environment. No toxic embalming fluids are used, and the resultant nutrient-rich soil has a green thumb use.
There are safeguards in place to ensure that no harmful pathogens survive the recomposition process, which has been another sticking point in previous attempts to legalize human composting. A study led by researcher Lynne Carpenter-Boggs at Washington State University, which recomposed six donor bodies in a carefully controlled environment, has demonstrated that the process is safe.