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