Human Composting

— Become Living Soil After You Die

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This age-old poetic reference to cremation and burial faces a modern controversy. Are ash and dust from current death care practices eco-friendly? According to the Green Burial Council, current practices poison the land with over 4 million gallons of embalming fluid, including 827,060 gallons of formaldehyde, methanol, and benzene.


  • Five states, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California, allow a new, eco-friendly death care option: human body composting.
  • Body composting is scientifically known as natural organic reduction (NOR). Some also call it termination.
  • For those who choose NOR, it takes two-six months to transform their bodies into rich composting soil to nourish the earth.
  • Loved ones may take home all or part of the soil or donate it to a land restoration project through their green funeral home.
  • NOR improves soil biodiversity and reduces carbon emissions. Meanwhile, neither traditional burial nor cremation is eco-friendly.

Meanwhile, by some calculations, U.S. cremations alone burn enough fossil fuels to power a car to the moon and back 1307 times per year.

A new, earth-friendly death care alternative is now legal in five states: transform your body into rich, living soil through body composting.

What is human composting?

Compost is a mixture of organic material added to soil to enrich its contents. Natural products like food scraps, leaves, and grass trimmings are mixed to decompose over time into the type of compost you buy at the store.

Green funeral homes apply this same scientific process to human bodies, allowing them to decompose into rich compost. The official name for body composting is natural organic reduction (NOR). The process requires carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen with optimal temperature and moisture to transform the body into the soil. This rich environment allows beneficial bacteria and other microbes to quickly break down the body into compost.

In 2012, Katrina Spade of Washington state learned that farmers have composted animal bodies for decades. In pursuit of greener burial options, she wondered if human bodies could also be composted.

After seven years of research and development, she stood with Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, on May 2019 when he signed body composting into law. Today, NOR is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California, with bills pending in several other states as well.

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) is eco-friendly

Like any healthy compost, natural organic reduction repairs soil feeds living organisms and absorbs carbon dioxide by restoring forests. This is the same outcome as a natural burial – death care completed without chemicals added to the body or burial supplies – but at a faster rate.

Recompose claims NOR uses 1/8 of the energy used by conventional burial or cremation and reduces carbon emissions by nourishing soil, plants, and forests.

It’s hard to argue when you look at the numbers. Modern burial not only leaks 4 million gallons of embalming fluid into the land yearly, but it also feeds the earth 1.6 million tons of concrete and 64,500 tons of steel, as well as iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt leached from caskets and vaults.

Meanwhile, cremation is growing in popularity as many people find modern burial overly expensive, complex, and unnecessary. But fire cremation isn’t great for Mother Earth, either.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, 57.5% of America’s dead were cremated in 2021, while Canada’s rate was 74.8%. 40 years ago, only 5% of Americans chose cremation.

To cremate a body within two-three hours, the furnace temperature must reach about 1500°. One cremation burns 30 gallons of fuel and produces about 535 lbs of carbon dioxide. The EPA estimates that a typical passenger car emits about 845 lbs of carbon dioxide monthly.

With its necessary machinery and transportation, human composting isn’t completely carbon-free. The natural process also releases some greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. However, body compost feeds plants and trees that remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen, which means NOR is possibly carbon-neutral. Impressively, one composted body produces nearly a pick-up truckload of healthy soil.

Plants and trees need biodiverse soil to thrive. More microbes live in one teaspoon of healthy soil than all the humans on the planet. Among those billions of microorganisms, there should be 10,000 – 50,000 species of these tiny creatures. Due to various modern practices, however, our soil’s microbial diversity is declining. Composted bodies help tackle this problem by restoring soil and nourishing damaged land.

Another benefit of NOR is that it uses 90% less water than aquamation, another green alternative, which uses water to cremate remains instead of fire.

How does body composting work?

Also called termination, NOR begins when a body is wrapped in a biodegradable cloth and cradled into a vessel, often a steel cylinder. The body rests on a bed of organic material such as alfalfa, wood chips, and straw. Some composting services use wildflowers as well. Each body is placed in its container about eight feet long and covered with more organic material.

Depending on the method used, the body typically stays in the vessel for 30 – 45 days. The environment inside the container reaches about 140°, a perfect atmosphere for microbes to transform the body.

Bones and teeth remain when the rest of the body is fully decomposed. They are ground – just like cremation – and returned to the soil.

Medical devices, metal fillings, and implants are also sorted out at this point and recycled when possible.

Once the body is transformed into compost, it is removed from the vessel and cured in a finishing container for two-four weeks to stabilize the soil’s chemical process.

Nature’s a brilliant transformation process

NOR eliminates nearly all harmful viruses and bacteria as the body decomposes, including SARS-CoV-2. Currently, only three diseases disqualify bodies from being composted: Ebola, tuberculosis, and rare prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which causes severe brain damage.

Embalmed bodies are not allowed to be composted. Embalming chemicals are toxic and kill the microbes needed for the composting process.

Radiation seeds implanted for cancer treatment must be removed from the body before composting if the seeds were placed within 30 days of death.

What do loved ones do with the soil?

Loved ones choose to receive all or part of their person’s soil. Like any compost, the soil can feed their deceased loved one’s garden, nurture an orchard, or nourish a memorial tree.

But not every family wants a truckload of their loved one’s composted body. Instead, with the help of the funeral home, the family can donate the soil to a land restoration project.

Burial laws differ from state to state. The placement of human compost must comply with state regulations.

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) costs about the same as cremation

Depending on the company, costs of terramation with a memorial service range from $3500 – 8000. Some companies subsidize the rate for those who need financial help.

In the United States, the median price for a ceremony with cremation in 2021 was $6971. The median cost of a ceremony with viewing (which requires embalming) and burial was $7848. This burial cost does not include a plot, a cement vault, or a headstone, which can increase the cost substantially.

For people living in a state where NOR is not yet allowed, it is legal to transport a body between states. Delivery of human compost can also be arranged across states.

Leaving a legacy

Green burial options are growing as the public pushes for improved death care practices. Natural organic reduction feeds and nourishes the earth as it has fed and nourished you. For a final act of gratitude, consider returning your body to the earth as rich, living soil.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Comes For Everybody

— Here’s How to Make Yours Sustainable

By Paola Magni & Edda Guareschi

We can all agree humans need to reduce their impact on the environment. And while most of us think of this in terms of daily activities – such as eating less meat, or being water-wise – this responsibility actually extends beyond life and into death.

The global population is closing on 8 billion, and the amount of land available for human burial is running out, especially in small and densely populated countries.

To minimise environmental impact, human bodies should return to nature as quickly as possible. But the rate of decay in some of the most common traditional disposal methods is very slow. It can take several decades for a body to decompose.

In a one-of-its-kind study, our team analyzed 408 human bodies exhumed from grave pits and stone tombs in the north of Italy to find out what conditions help speed up decay

The environmental cost of traditional burials

Funeral rituals should respect the dead, bring closure to families and promote the reaching of the afterlife in accordance with people’s beliefs. This looks different for different people.

Although the Catholic church has allowed cremation since 1963, it still prefers burials. Muslims are always supposed to be buried, while most Hindus are cremated.

In Australia, however, the latest census revealed almost 40 percent of the population identifies as “not religious“. This opens up more avenues for how people’s bodies may be handled after death.

Most traditional burial practices in industrialised countries have several long-lasting harmful effects on the environment.

Wood and metal fragments in coffins and caskets remain in the ground, leaching harmful chemicals through paint, preservatives and alloys. Chemicals used for embalming also remain in the ground and can contaminate soil and waterways.

Cremation also has a large carbon footprint. It requires lots of trees for fuel and produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as toxic volatile compounds.

There are several alternatives to traditional burials. These include “water cremation” or “resomation” (where the body is rapidly dissolved), human composting, mummification, cryonics (freezing and storage), space burials, and even turning the body into trees or the ashes into diamonds or record vinyls.

However, many of these alternatives are either illegal, unavailable, costly or not aligned with people’s beliefs. The vast majority choose coffin burials, and all countries accept this method. So the question of sustainable burials comes down to choosing between the many types of coffins available.

What leads to faster decomposition?

Coffins range from traditional wooden caskets, to cardboard coffins, to natural coffins made from willow, banana leaf or bamboo, which decompose faster.

The most environmentally sustainable choice is one that allows the body to decompose and reduce to a skeleton (or “skeletonize”) quickly – possibly in just a few years.

Our research has presented three key findings on conditions that promote the skeletonization of human bodies.

First, it has confirmed that bodies disposed in traditionally sealed tombs (where a coffin is placed inside a stone space) can take more than 40 years to skeletonise.

In these sealed tombs, bacteria rapidly consume the oxygen in the stone space where the coffin is placed. This creates a micro-environment that promotes an almost indefinite preservation of the body.

We also found burial grounds with a high percentage of sand and gravel in the soil promote the decomposition and skeletonisation of bodies in less than ten years – even if they are in a coffin.

That’s because this soil composition allows more circulation of air and microfauna, and ample water drainage – all of which are helpful for degrading organic matter.

Finally, our research confirmed previous suspicions about the slow decomposition of entombed bodies. We discovered placing bodies inside stone tombs, or covering them with a stone slab on the ground, helps with the formation of corpse wax (or “adipocere“).

This substance is the final result of several chemical reactions through which the body’s adipose (fat) tissues turn to a “soapy” substance that’s very resistant to further degradation. Having corpse wax slows down (if not completely arrests) the decomposition process.

A new, greener option

In looking for innovative burial solutions, we had the opportunity to experiment with a new type of body disposal in a tomb called an “aerated tomb“.

Over the past 20 years, aerated tombs have been developed in some European countries including France, Spain and Italy (where they have been commercialised).

They allow plenty of ventilation, which in turn enables a more hygienic and faster decomposition of bodies compared to traditional tombs.

They have a few notable features:

  • An activated carbon filter purifies gases
  • Fluids are absorbed by two distinct biodegrading biological powders, one placed at the bottom of the coffin and the other in a collecting tray beneath it
  • Once the body has decomposed, the skeletal remains can be moved to an ossuary (a site where skeletal remains are stored), while the tomb can be dismantled and most of its components potentially recycled.

Aerated tombs are also cheaper than ordinary tombs and can be built from existing tombs. They would be simple to use in Australia and would comply with public health and hygiene standards.

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what will happen to our bodies after we die. Perhaps we should. In the end this may be one of our most important last decisions – the implications of which extend to our precious planet.

Complete Article HERE!

How human composting could reduce death’s carbon footprint

By Kristen Rogers

You probably know that composting banana peels and eggshells can help reduce your negative impact on the environment. But did you know that, once you die, you can do that with your body, too?

Human composting — also known as natural organic reduction or the reduction of human remains — is the practice of placing a dead body in a reusable vessel with biodegradable materials that foster the transformation into nutrient-dense soil that can be returned to loved ones or donated to conservation land.

The notion of going green even in death might sound far-fetched, but California has become the latest state to sign a human composting bill into law, set to go into effect in 2027. Washington became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, followed by Oregon, Colorado and Vermont.

Advocates of human composting hope it can help slow the climate crisis driven by burning fossil fuels that produce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane. Cremations require lots of fuel — cremating one corpse emits an estimated 418 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air, the equivalent of driving 470 miles in a car, according to Chemical & Engineering News, a publication of the American Chemical Society. In the United States, cremations account for 1.74 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year, according to Green Burial Council Inc., an organization that oversees certification standards for cemeteries, funeral homes and product providers engaged in sustainable burial practices.

“Human composting … uses much less energy than cremation, which uses fossil gas to create heat of over 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, a licensed green funeral home in Seattle. “When human composting transforms the organic material of our bodies, carbon is also sequestered in the soil created. Rather than being released as carbon dioxide gas through exhaust during a cremation, the carbon matter contained in each body returns to the earth.”

Cristina Garcia, the California Assembly member who introduced the state legislation, said wildfires and extreme drought are reminders that climate change is real, and that methane and carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced. “For each individual who chooses (natural organic reduction) over conventional burial or cremation, the process saves the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment,” Garcia said in a September news release.

Recompose, Spade’s company, became the first human composting facility in the US when it opened in December 2020. Spade thought of human composting in graduate school after learning about livestock mortality composting, when farm animals are recycled back to the land, she said.

The industry is new, and there is little research on how much better human composting is for the environment compared with traditional burials, cremation or green burials. And the process isn’t carbon-free since it still involves machinery operated by electricity and transportation of bodies, materials and remains, said Ed Bixby, president of the Green Burial Council.

As interest in more sustainable end-of-life options grows, transparency about the practice is crucial, Bixby said. A recent National Funeral Directors Association survey that found 60.5% of respondents were interested in exploring “green” funeral options because of potential environmental benefits, cost savings or other reasons.

“With our families, we never want them to be disturbed or upset believing something that isn’t,” Bixby said. “If you’re going to do something, if it’s environmentally conscious, we think that’s wonderful. But we want to be sure that people understand what they’re buying into.”

At Recompose, human composting happens in a steel cylinder that’s 8 feet long and 4 feet tall, Spade said. A body is placed in the vessel on a bed of wood chips, alfalfa and straw.

“Human composting creates an environment in which beneficial microbes thrive, with a specific moisture content and ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials,” Spade said.

Over the next 30 days, everything inside naturally decomposes. One body creates a cubic yard of soil amendment — a substance added to soil to improve its texture or health — which is removed from the vessel and cured for two to six weeks. Afterward, it can be donated to conservation projects, or a certain amount can be returned to loved ones. But the amount loved ones receive can depend on what a state allows since the soil would still be legally considered human remains with regulations on what people can do with them, Bixby said.

The practice also avoids the introduction of nonbiodegradable materials — such as concrete or plastic vaults, steel caskets or lacquers — to the atmosphere or land, and forest depletion for wood caskets, Bixby said. Human composting would also protect funeral home workers from exposure to high levels of formaldehyde, which has been found to cause myeloid leukemia and rare cancers.

Human composting could lower the financial footprint of end-of-life arrangements, too. The median cost of a funeral with cremation in the US in 2021 was $6,971, and the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. But the median burial estimate doesn’t include a plot, headstone or other cemetery costs associated with a traditional burial, which can often double the cost, Spade said.

“Recompose strives to keep the price for human composting comparable to other death care options,” Spade said.

Recompose has composted more than 200 corpses into soil since opening nearly two years ago and has more than 1,100 people signed up for Precompose, the company’s prearrangement program, Spade said.

“We hear from our clients that knowing that their body — or that of their loved one — will be able to return to the earth is deeply comforting,” Spade said.

Not everyone is eligible for human composting. Natural organic reduction destroys most harmful pathogens, but there are three rare diseases that disqualify a body from undergoing human composting, Spade said: Ebola, tuberculosis and diseases caused by prions, which are abnormal, transmissible pathogenic agents that can cause abnormal folding of certain brain proteins.

The list of states allowing human composting may soon grow longer. A bill in New York state has passed both legislative houses and is on its way to the governor’s desk, Spade said. And in Massachusetts, state Reps. Jack Lewis and Natalie Higgins are leading a bill to legalize human composting there.

Most funeral homes, however, might not be quick to adopt the practice, Bixby said. Once a permit is issued, direct cremation can be done the same day, he added. A burial typically takes three to five days, while human composting can take up to 120.

“The problem I see, as far as this growing, is that you can’t do high volume,” Bixby said. “As long as this process is, having five or six (vessels) doesn’t do a lot of good. … As a businessman, my feeling is this really won’t gain much ground for that main reason.”

He added, “It doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. And I hate to make things about money because it shouldn’t be, but at the end of the day, when you’re providing a service, it has to be about the income because you have to keep the lights on.”

Complete Article HERE!

Green Burial Options Can Spur End-of-Life Conversations

A ‘gradual goodbye’ process can ease caregiver stress, aid acceptance

By Lee Woodruff

It used to be that end-of-life discussions — specifically those around final wishes for burial sites and memorials — were limited to a few choices. Does my loved one want a traditional burial or does he want to be cremated? Is there a family plot? Should we opt for a burial spot central to all? These topics, while difficult and sometimes awkward, are critical. And advance planning is one way to ease the anxiety and unknowns that arise in the wake of death and loss.

Sometimes those early discussions can lead you in a surprising direction. For the Groves family, it was choosing a green burial.

Pamela Groves-Gaggioli, 69, of Northfield, Minnesota, started the conversation with her brother Steve Groves, 67, of Stillwater, Minnesota, after their mother asked the siblings to help her find a burial plot where the entire family could visit. Maxine Groves, 92, of Hudson, Wisconsin, had grown up on a farm. And while this remarkable woman was hale and hearty, the Groves family wanted to get what they called “a head-start on the end-of-life conversation.”

“We began looking at some of the cemeteries around our homes and they just didn’t feel right, for one reason or the other,” says Pamela, who had recently lost her own husband of 26 years, Fred. She’d taken Fred’s ashes to Italy and spread some in a gorgeous place in the woods, but she also was determined to find a spot near home where she and her daughter, Maggie, could go and feel close to him.

A growing memorial

A friend told Pamela about Better Place Forests’ St. Croix Valley location, in Scandia, Minnesota, a memorial forest where family members choose a tree and have their cremated ashes mixed with local soil and spread around the tree as a final resting place for themselves and future generations.

Pamela investigated. As she visited the forest, she spotted a red maple with seven branches, the exact number of her extended family members.Maxine Groves was gifted a chainsaw for her birthday from her kids.

Suzy Oswald Maxine Groves was gifted a chainsaw for her birthday from her kids.

Suzy OswaldSomething about the tree struck her. Instead of looking for a plot in the ground, what if, in death, they could all be part of something growing and living, like this tree?

Pamela shared the concept with her brother, Steve; he was all in. As executor of the will, he knew they had to start making some decisions before their mom died, especially with five siblings. When their father had passed away 13 years earlier, nothing had been planned and it had been a scramble during an already sad time. He was determined that the family not repeat that experience.

“We’re a positive, outgoing, nature-connected and close-knit family,” says Steve. “The idea of making our final resting place all together in a forest, each with our own branch, was extremely appealing. For us, it was everything that a traditional cemetery wasn’t.”

The whole family traveled to see the spot. “It was a spectacular day, and we all felt really good about the excursion; upbeat, not sad,” Steve recalls. “My mom could not have been happier. Making this decision and standing around the tree, it was like a 1,000-pound rock had been lifted off our backs.”>

Groves Family
Maxine Groves was gifted a chainsaw for her birthday from her kids.

Connecting to nature

Places like Better Place Forests are part of a macro trend of “green end-of-life options” that offer a personalized and eco-friendly solution to end of life. According to the National Funeral Directors Association’s 2022 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Report, 60.5 percent of the Americans surveyed would explore green funeral options for their potential savings and reduced environmental impact. Many of these new options connect people more closely to nature in death, whether it’s planting ashes under fruit trees, a “gentler” water-based cremation like the process used at White Rose Aqua Cremation in California, choosing biodegradable caskets or even using remains to become part of rebuilding vital coral reefs.

Micah Truman, 51, CEO and Founder of Return Home in Auburn, Washington, says “human beings were designed to be returned to the earth.” His company has developed a process called terramation that uses microbes in the body to gently convert human remains into soil. The 60-day process involves placing the body into a vessel with alfalfa, straw and sawdust. Once the terramation process is complete, the families may use the soil in any way they see fit, sharing with others and planting trees or flowers in beloved places.

“It’s so important to begin talking about the dying process and yet it’s still a conversation that most of us are hesitant to have,” he notes. 

Over Return Home’s 15 months of operation, Truman has witnessed some unexpected and wonderful moments of connection, conversation and acceptance around death. “People will come to our facility and visit the vessel, sit by it and talk to their loved one,” says Truman.  “They decorate the vessel with important keepsakes, and at the start of the terramation process [they] place flowers, food or even letters in the vessel. This gradual way of saying goodbye has been beautiful to observe.”

Less stress, more peace

Being in nature eases pain and grief, says John Collins, CEO of Better Place Forests.

“Even having an end-of-life conversation when surrounded by trees is certainly less stressful engulfed by green leaves and birdsong,” he says.  “Unfortunately, for the past century or so, death and end-of-life care have been treated more transactionally and with some remove, as if dying were taboo. … We encourage people to start the conversations here and use the trees as a way to think about their own end of life story.  It makes it so much less stressful on both the caregivers and family members.”

Pamela is all for less stress. For her that means making the hard end-of-life choices now. “My daughter Maggie is my only one,” she explains. “I know from personal experience that when the end comes, you’re grieving, and I don’t want to leave her alone trying to make all these tough decisions.  I want everything to be easy for her. Out in nature is where I feel closest to God.”

Members of the Groves family say they are happy that the overall cost of their decision of a family tree was less expensive than a traditional burial and family plot, but are also placated by the fact that by being in a protected forest means that no one will ever be able to build there. Steve and his siblings also love that the organization donates trees to areas that have been devastated by forest fires.

“Mom gave us our love of the outdoors as kids going up to the farm, and this decision is a real extension of that,” says Steve. “How can you argue with the fact that you’re being kind to nature and at the same time you’re making everyone happy? That’s priceless to me.”

End-of-Life Conversations

AARP family caregiving expert Amy Goyer offers tips on how to make ongoing discussions go smoother:

Start early. Bring up the topic in “some day” terms. Don’t wait until a health crisis.

Watch words. Use language the family member is comfortable with: death vs. end of life; funeral vs. memorial service.

Use a conversation starter. Ease into the discussion by mentioning an article, book or movie that deals with end-of-life issues.

Discuss a recently attended funeral. Say, “What did you like? What do you want for your service/burial?”

Most important: Remind your loved one this is their chance to have their wishes fulfilled. By making these decisions now it will help you and others during a time of sorrow.

Complete Article HERE!

Water Cremation Offers Eco-Alternative For Funerals

Funeral traditions around the world vary widely depending on cultural and religious practices, but they often use burial or cremation. Neither method is good for the environment, and green alternatives are gaining in popularity. Aquamation, or water cremation, is a low-carbon, less energy-intensive process that could replace both.

By Robin Fearon

Aquamation, also called resomation or bio-cremation, uses 90 percent less energy than flame cremation. Our bodies are naturally made up of around 60 percent water, so the process uses a technique called alkaline hydrolysis, mixing heated water with potassium or sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) to dissolve body tissue, leaving only bones that are then turned into ash for relatives to keep.


The most common funeral method in the US is traditional cremation, accounting for 58 percent of ceremonies in 2021, with 37 percent opting for burial. Trends show cremation became more popular partly because it is less expensive, but aquamation compares well. It costs roughly the same, though may be more expensive as funeral directors must invest in new technology.

But where aquamation stands out is in its environmental impact. Each year the US uses an estimated 800,000 gallons of carcinogenic formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, two billion tons of concrete used in grave liners or vaults, 115 million tons of steel, and wood equivalent to more than four million single-family homes from caskets. Cremation meanwhile results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions globally each year, as well as toxic mercury released from dental fillings.

Burial plots for people and crematory remain also require a lot of land and maintenance effort. There are 145,000 cemeteries in the US, even in places with no living population, and the question of using land for more productive purposes is valid.

The death of renowned anti-apartheid and human rights activist Desmond Tutu has kickstarted interest in aquamation as a green alternative, after it emerged he requested the method for his own funeral held in January 2022. But the process itself has been around since the late nineteenth century, developed by farmer Amos Hanson to make fertilizer from animal carcasses.

The first commercial system was only installed in Albany Medical College in 1993 to dispose of human cadavers. Universities and hospitals then adopted aquamation into their body donation programs, before it crossed over into the US funeral industry in 2011.

The National Funeral Directors Association said 60 percent of people asked about green funeral options for reasons including their environmental benefits and reduced costs. Aquamation fits that brief.

A demonstration "vessel" for the deceased, which has been decorated with flowers and compostable mementos by Return Home on top of a bed of straw, is pictured during a tour of the funeral home which specializes in human composting in Auburn, Washington on March 14, 2022. - Washington in 2019 became the first in the United States to make it a legal alternative to cremation. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

More creative alternatives include converting a loved one’s ashes into a vinyl record, or a pencil, or compressing them into a diamond. But the eco-dream could be to grow into a tree or combine ash remains into a reef ball that is then sunk to the ocean bed so a new coral reef can flourish.

Complete Article HERE!

The funeral industry turns people into toxic waste.

— California needs green burial options

By Amelia Gallegos

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by death. As a child, it inspired my curiosity about the life cycle. As an adult, it inspired my career. As a funeral director who specializes in environmentally-friendly funeral services, I meet many Californians who reach out wanting to find the most sustainable deathcare option.

That Californians would want sustainable alternatives to traditional burial and cremation makes sense. California has long been a leader when it comes to environmental protections. But there’s no reason those protections can’t extend through a person’s entire life cycle.

Traditional burial and cremation practices are disastrous for the environment. Traditional burial puts over 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), 104,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, and 30 million board feet of hardwood in the ground across the United States every year. For perspective, that is more steel than was used in the construction of the Golden Gate bridge. Every year.

Cremation presents its own issues. The average cremation emits an estimated 534.6 pounds of CO2. With 300,000 people dying in California in 2020, and 65% of Californians choosing to be cremated, our state released well over 100 million pounds of CO2 in cremations that year alone. During the pandemic, air quality standards in Los Angeles had to be suspended to allow for the backlog of cremations.

Californians and the planet deserve better.

“Human composting,” or natural organic reduction (NOR) is a regenerative, sustainable alternative to traditional burial or cremation that gently transforms the body into a cubic-yard of nutrient rich soil. In NOR, a body is placed in a steel vessel on a bed of wood chips and other biodegradable materials that allow it to naturally decompose. Once the decomposition process has fully converted the remains into soil—a process that typically takes around 30 days—the soil is then returned to the family. From there, families can decide to scatter or plant with the soil or to donate it to be used for land conservation and restoration.

Ranging in cost from $5,500 to $7,000, NOR is cheaper than traditional burial in California—which costs on average $7,225—and is comparable in cost to cremation in the state—which has an average price tag of $6,028. But unlike traditional burial and cremation, NOR actually supports the environment.

In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize NOR, followed by Colorado, Oregon and Vermont. Environmentally conscious Californians I meet that are planning to have their body transported out of state in order to access NOR tell me they’re doing so because they want their last act to mirror how they lived their lives. They want their passing to have a positive environmental impact.

Fortunately, Californians seeking NOR may soon no longer have to travel out of state. Earlier this year, Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia and Robert Rivas introduced AB 351. The bill, which passed in the state legislature with strong bipartisan support, would legalize NOR in California—making ours the fifth state in the nation to approve soil transformation deathcare. The bill is currently awaiting approval from Governor Newsom.

True, Californians already have some green alternatives to traditional burial and cremation. Green burials, in which a body is buried in a shroud and water cremation, first legalized in 2017, are both options. But having some eco-friendlier alternatives doesn’t preclude the state from providing its residents with another—especially when that option offers significant savings in carbon emissions, water, and land usage.

Nothing is more clear and natural in death than returning to the earth itself. By signing AB 351 into law, the governor can ensure that every Californian has the option to choose the most sustainable option in deathcare.

Complete Article HERE!

I’m Having My Body Turned to Compost After I Die

Turning in your grave is the newest alternative to burial or cremation.

By Becky Garrison

As a child of an Episcopal priest, I grew up hearing the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” at more Ash Wednesday services and funerals than I care to count. I was too busy either squirming out of boredom or trying to wipe ashes from my forehead to give the implications behind this phrase much thought.

Before my hippie parents died from their addictions in the late 1970s, they explained to me how they intended to put the spiritual concept of “ashes to ashes” into practice by choosing cremation. My teenage mind envisioned all kinds of bizarre scenarios of what I could do with their ashes, my gallows brand of humor predating Weekend at Bernies by well over a decade.

Their choice of cremation proved to be one of their few sound lifestyle choices. They made this decision because they believed this practice was more in line with their earth ethics than a commercial traditional burial. According to the Green Burial Council, annually traditional burials in the United States use approximately:

  • 4.3 million gallons embalming fluid, 827,060 gallons of which is formaldehyde, methanol, and benzene
  • 20 million board feet of hardwoods, including rainforest woods
  • 1.6 million tons of concrete
  • 17,000 tons of copper and bronze
  • 64,500 tons of steel
  • Caskets and vaults leaching iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt

While modern traditional cremation may be less toxic, experts say the energy and emissions are equal to two tanks of gas in an average car. Simply put, that’s too much noxious residue to suit my soul. This is one road trip I’d prefer to avoid—and I decided to go a step further than my parents by giving my body back to the earth in a more natural manner.

The question was how exactly I could do that. When I turned the big 4-0, I found myself drawn to the concept of a green burial as a way to leave no trace behind when I depart. But eco-friendly burials were a service only available in select locations, and any burial expenses cost more than what I could afford to set aside. So I deferred any decisions regarding what would happen to my body after I died. After all, I was young and so far had avoided overindulging in those vices that destroyed much of my extended family.

Then COVID hit, along with wildfires impacting Portland, Oregon, where I live—not to mention the arrival of my 60th birthday. The uptick in mailings from AARP and others marketing to the “silver hairs” (sounds more upscale, I suppose, than old farts) told me I needed to make some key life decisions, including what would happen to my body upon my demise.

So I began researching natural burial options, and soon learned I am among the majority of Americans intrigued by this option. According to the National Funeral Directors Association’s (NFDA) 2022 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Report, 60.5 percent of respondents would be interested in exploring “green” funeral options because of potential environmental benefits, cost savings, or some other reason, up from 55.7 percent in 2021.

While the association supports eco-friendly burials, as NFDA spokesperson and funeral director Stephen Kemp explained, state and federal laws limit the options they can provide to families. For example, he finds the Hindu method of natural burial—where families do the cremation themselves—to be a wonderful process. “I wish we could do it like they do in India but some of the EPA rules forbid that here in the United States,” he said.

According to Kemp, the most popular request he receives from families looking for a greener burial is a natural burial in a green cemetery. I already ruled this option out as my estranged family has no communal plot where I could rest permanently. I figured no one would bother to visit, let alone ensure my grave doesn’t get overrun with weeds, varmints, and too-horny Goth kids.

In looking over the other greener choices, the water lover in me felt drawn to alkaline hydrolysis. Practitioners say this water-based process of cremation results in over 90 percent energy savings compared to flame-based cremation. But I wondered what would then happen to my remains. Did I want them turned into stones, placed in a water-soluble urn such as a papier-mâché turtle that would be sent out to sea, or used to help create an artificial reef formation? These options looked pretty on paper but were either too impractical or way out of my price range.

As an avid hiker, fly-fisher, cyclist, and gardener, I felt a strong tug to go back into the earth as living soil. So I found myself attracted to human composting, a method of accelerated human decomposition known scientifically as Natural Organic Reduction (NOR). After this process is completed, my remains could be placed in a plantable urn or converted into soil that could be returned directly back into the earth.

When I mentioned the process of human composting to a few friends, the responses I got ranged from morbid curiosity to outright disgust, with a smattering of jokes about how my soil would provide the perfect growing conditions for cannabis plants. Undaunted, I continued my research and learned that NOR was legalized in Oregon, Washington State and Colorado, with laws under consideration in New York and California.

The finished compost product.

After weeding out some for-profit human composting centers that came off as too commercialized and cold for my spiritual sensibilities, I discovered Herland Forest, a non-profit natural cemetery located on the eastern edge of the Cascadian wilderness. For starters, their price of $3,000 was at least half of what the other outfits charged.

In my phone conversation with Senior Steward Walt Patrick, I found their philosophy towards nature in sync with my soul. He describes the difference between traditional burial practices and their practice: “Commercial death care does what it can to keep the decedent from returning to the natural world and reentering the cycle of life. In contrast, we do what we can to help the decedent become a dynamic part of the cycle of life. NOR offers a way to transition from the path one walked in life to becoming part of the larger circle of life.”

Patrick detailed the process to turn a body into soil:

An insulated coffin configured as a cradle is prepared with a layer of 80 gallons of moist wood chips, and the body is then laid in the cradle on top of the wood chips and covered with another layer of wood chips. The cradle lid is put in place and bolted down, and every few days, the cradle is rolled back and forth.

An insulated coffin filled with woodchips.

Herland Forest

The temperature inside the cradle is monitored. As decomposition gets underway the internal temperature will climb to above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. and then slowly come down. When the internal temp falls to below 80 degrees, the initial process is complete. The cradle is then opened and the composted remains are removed, processed, and stored in 55 gallon drums.

The resulting soil is either picked up for distribution on private property or added to Herland’s living sanctuary filled with native pine, fir, and oak trees, along with non-native varieties such as chestnut, walnut, gingko, cherry, apple, and hazelnut. So I have the option of either letting a buddy grow buds with my remains so they can smoke my spirits or having hikers walk all over me now that I’m part of the PNW landscape.

This venture represents an outgrowth of the Windward Education and Research Center, which for decades has utilized forest products to transform the remains of large farm animals into nutrient-rich compost. After Washington State legalized NOR, they continued composting the remains of the animals they work with in their sustainability research. But as Patrick noted, “the change in the law just allowed us to apply the skills we’d been developing for two decades to the disposition of human remains.”

Funeral director Elizabeth Fournier of Cornerstone Funeral oversees the preparations.

Herland Forest

After the decomposition process is completed, the compost is the property of the family, and they can do whatever they wish with it. The photos on their website of their permaculture forest told me I’d be at home in their living sanctuary—helping to feed the native trees.

Having made the decision to participate in Herland Forest’s program, I’m filled with a sense of peace knowing I will leave behind a living and lasting legacy. More importantly, as I emerge from an extended period of isolation as a result of this global pandemic, I’m filled with an intense burning desire to connect with nature. Right now, I am ready but not eager for that time when I will become a part of the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

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