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!

Letting grief make you stronger

By Nancie Wiseman Attwater

Grief is powerful and can break your heart for the rest of your life, or you can learn from it and become stronger. Losing a loved one is something that everyone will go through, but not all come out as survivors in the end. It’s part of life, but a very difficult part. Think of your loss as a lesson to help you live the rest of your life.

How do you survive grief? It’s a difficult question and everyone will have a different answer. You must find your own answer and let that be your focus rather than the sorrow you are feeling. Death is final, there is no going back, but your grief can slowly ebb if you work at it and learn what you can do to feel better for yourself. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have done some real soul-searching to make my new lifestyle work for me. No one can do this for you, you have to take care of your own heart and soul.

I write. That helps me get through the hard days and the difficult nights. Not everyone will feel comfortable writing their thoughts down, but there are some other options, and hopefully, one or two will fit your lifestyle.

1. Grief is like a chronic illness. Some days will feel better, and others will be just like the first day after your loved one died. You will always have grief, but it can be managed. You will never forget them, and remembering the time you had together may be more helpful than thinking only of the time you no longer have with them. It’s always there, in the same room with you at all times. It might be right next to you or across the room, but it is there.

2. Reading about others’ grief and what they did to feel better may help you. How did they survive every day? There are dozens of books and resources about grief. I received an email every week for 12 weeks from the Neptune Society, the folks who cremated my husband, on the stages of grief and how to work through them. Try and read this helpful information if you receive anything like it. It truly is invaluable.

3. Speaking to others who may have gone through the same loss. Choose carefully as the person who lost a child, or a parent may have a different experience than someone who lost a spouse.

4. Finding things to do that focus your mind elsewhere. Not easy to get out and exercise when you just want to go back to bed. There are other things like reading, crafts of some sort, or even just cleaning out the cupboards in the kitchen.

5. Your appetite may change. For most, I think eating becomes an issue because they don’t feel hungry. They live alone now and don’t want to sit at the table across from an empty chair. Wander the grocery store aisles and find things that appeal to you. Even if it is just a chocolate rice cake, it’s something.

6. Alcohol. Be very careful. Using alcohol to calm your nerves or go to sleep can turn into a bigger problem than your grief. I used brandy every night for a month to help me sleep. I knew I was headed in a bad direction, so I had to find other ways to help me sleep. Music is at the top of the list.

7. Get help. Please get some counseling and let your grief pour out during your sessions. It’s a safe place to talk with no judgment. Online counseling is easy to get now. Contact your health care provider to see what they have to offer.

8. Exercise of some sort is a great stress reducer and will increase endorphins that help make you feel better. I’m not a bit gym person, but I have one where I live, and I get there when I can. My exercise is walking the dog. We walk up to 10,000 steps a day, sun, rain, or wind. It helps us both. I feel better, and I think the dog does too, after a long walk. We have several walking paths where I live, and I think we have walked every one of them. One day, my dog saw someone using a walker and ran to catch up with them. Bill used a walker, and I think she thought it was him. She came to a screeching halt when she realized it was a woman. I felt so sorry for my dog because how do you explain death to a pet? She is grieving too, and I’m sure she wonders when Bill is returning.

9. I have to walk by my husband’s clothes hanging n the closet every day. I am not ready to get rid of them. Some days I wear one of his flannel shirts. It’s huge and will always make me cry for a minute, but it’s a closeness I’m not ready to give up.

10. The one thing that I miss is Bill saying, “Good night, sweetheart” every night when we went to bed. I still think he is going to walk out of the bathroom in the morning and say, “Good morning,” but that is wishful thinking and all part of the grieving process. I still can’t believe he is gone, and my brain and my heart need some time before acceptance is part of my reality. I spoke with our accountant the other day, and when we were saying, “Goodbye” he said, “I love you.” This was so sweet, and I have never even met him, only talked on the phone. I sat in my chair and cried for a bit and realized I miss that sentiment too and will always long to hear it again from Bill.

11. If your loved one had a long illness and you experienced anticipatory grief before the actual death, you may find that your grief now doesn’t seem strong enough. You might ask, “Why am I not feeling more sorrow?” You’ve already done a lot of the work, and even though “grief” has not left the room, your day-to-day struggle may be slightly less. Some days will always be brighter than others, no matter when and how you experience grief.

12. Grief will stay in the room with you wherever you go. It might be next to you or over in the corner, but it will always be there. I went to my local grocery store, where I always bought cream puffs for my husband. He loved them and asked for them whenever I went shopping. I just happened to walk past the cream puff section of the store while shopping the other day and started crying. That’s how grief stays with you. A simple reminder of your loved one can – when you least expect it – bring sadness and tears. I had to walk away and wipe my tears and told myself to stay away from that section of the store if I possibly can. I’m in charge of my grief, the cream puffs are not, so I need to manage when I think I can walk by them again and not break down in tears. It’s the age-old phrase, “Choose your battles.” Always choose where you are the winner.

13. I have found that at least once a day since my husband passed away about three months ago, I have had to tell someone, “My husband passed away in August.” For some reason, it happens every day. The bank, Social Security, the state, or the HOA where I live, someone! Even the pest control people needed to know. I found after a while that it became easier to say the more I said it. I can now say “Bill passed away” without crying. I may tear up, but saying it more often sort of takes the “sting” out of the words and their meaning. This made me stronger and more accepting of what has happened and the need to let everyone know.

14. When someone asks me how I am doing, I’m still not able to answer without tears. I went out to lunch with a friend the other day, and she kept asking me over and over how I was doing. I told her I couldn’t answer right now, which may have been hurtful for her because she really cares, but I had to stop the tears. It ruined the lunch I was looking forward to, and could not eat another bite. It was a well-meaning gesture, but I didn’t want to cry at the restaurant. I need to get stronger on this issue and with my answer. Usually, I say I’m “OK,” but that isn’t enough for the people who really care sometimes.

15. Keeping busy helps, but don’t overdo it. One task, a phone call, or a chore a day is useful for keeping up with everything, like paperwork for a government agency or retirement income changes. Some of these calls are very frustrating. I talked to Social Security at least once a week for a while, but I made the call when I was rested, had eaten something, and felt I could handle their questions as well as they could handle mine. You never know what kind of day the person on the other end of the phone has had, and if it feels like all you get is rudeness and no answers, maybe it’s best to try again another day.

16. I had to learn to cook for myself. This was a benefit to me. Bill always did all of the cooking, and I had to take over when he could no longer work in the kitchen. I’m not a great cook, but I do try to manage something for breakfast and sometimes dinner. I was going to look into cooking lessons next year and see if this gives me a new place to meet some people and make a friend or two.

17. Let kindness become a part of your life. I have a pretty good temper when provoked or feel someone isn’t giving me the service I think I deserve. I am working on being more gentle with my fellow humans because I have learned that life ends too soon. I want to be remembered for being nice, not crabby. My husband lived that way every day. I should have learned it sooner but was always so busy taking care of him that I didn’t give it much thought. I am learning from him still, and my grief makes me remember him and his “moral compass” that always seemed to be in the correct direction. I’m also trying to get my compass in the correct direction while I manage everything on my own.

18. A friend told me that it takes about two months to get everything straightened out – the insurance, social security, banks, and retirement accounts. I scoffed at this, thinking I’ll give it about a year. That’s also what they say is the length of time to accept the death of your loved one. I’m three months out, and the money issues seem to be clearing up, but I’ve got a long way to go to get used to the loss of Bill. I’m OK with that, I’m still working on this and will for a while, I’m sure.

19. Make your home all about you. You don’t have to remove mementos or photos, but now you can arrange the furniture or bathroom. Bill used a walker, we had to have wide paths for him to get through the house. I can now change this and rearrange things for my comfort. Bill also had several photos of old relatives hanging on the wall. I had no idea who any of them were, so I removed them and put up photos of my family and some of my artwork. It’s hard to do, but his family photos belong to his children, not me.

20. And finally, it’s OK to laugh despite your grief. In fact, laughing is good for you. A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen and stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. It also increases endorphins that are released by the brain. Laughter can cool down your stress response, soothe tension by stimulating circulation, and aid muscle relaxation. Laughter also has long-term side effects like improving your immune system, relieving pain, making it easier to cope with difficult situations, and improving your mood. I do my best to be around people who either make me laugh or at least seem happy. If someone has so much sadness themselves that it makes me feel sadder, I will say hello, but walk away as soon as is comfortable.

Complete Article HERE!

After a loved one dies, red tape adds to the grief

Bureaucratic delays and paperwork are frustrating, exhausting, emotionally crushing — and often unavoidable

by Allison Engel

In quick succession last spring, my family experienced three wrenching deaths: My brother-in-law died of a late-diagnosed cancer, my husband, Scott, died of a different late-diagnosed cancer and my mother died at age 100.

The last thing you want to deal with when you’re wrapped up in grief is red tape. It’s frustrating and exhausting and emotionally crushing. And yet it is unavoidable.

My family thought our financial affairs were organized. We had wills and beneficiaries were listed there and on all financial accounts. Many people don’t do that, which makes the post-death red tape so much worse. But even so, we’ve endured months of maddening experiences with banks, insurance companies, employers and the Social Security Administration — among others.

Here are a few of the most aggravating roadblocks:

Face recognition, voice recognition and fingerprint recognition speed up access when someone’s alive but present tremendous barriers for survivors trying to wind down accounts. When I sign in to my late husband Scott’s password manager and investment accounts, access codes are sent to his phone. Despite many tries, I find I cannot change that phone number. This means keeping Scott’s phone active, a needless expense.

Credit card mix-ups

If you think you and your spouse share a credit card, because each of you has a card with your name on it and the same account number, guess again. That card belongs only to the person who applied for the account. Credit card companies are alerted to a death quickly by the Social Security Administration, and will freeze a survivor’s ability to view the account online. Providing a paper statement seems logical, but our bank’s representative told me, “Once you’ve opted to get online statements, our policy is you cannot go back to paper statements.” It took six full months of begging to the bank’s “Deceased Management Team” (actual name) to be mailed statements for the months following Scott’s death. And it wasn’t easy to cancel some recurring charges.

At Best Buy, a customer service representative said I had to take a death certificate to a Best Buy store to cancel a Geek Squad subscription. I considered dressing in black with a veil but went dressed normally, with death certificate in hand, and got the refund.

Personal visits are discouraged

When your frustration level rises after marathon sessions on hold, you might be tempted to visit the bank or insurance office in person. Don’t. At one bank, an employee would not make an address change when I arrived, and referred me to the financial institution’s website.

I visited a Social Security office in person twice to try to change the address where Scott’s post-death Medicare bills were sent since I had moved — and was now paying those bills. An address change could not be done in person after a death, I was told; use his online account. But it is the one account not in his password manager and it has a unique username I don’t know. I hope his medical bills, arriving at a snail’s pace, all come before the Postal Service stops forwarding his mail to our old address.

Documentation overload

I bought multiple copies of Scott’s death certificate, but I was unprepared for how companies string out requests for other documents. Scott’s longtime employer clawed back his monthly pension without notification, then refused to tell me what documents it required other than the death certificate. The company needed to investigate Scott’s pension wishes, it said.

Scott had had only two choices: a higher pension that ended with his death or a lower pension that continued to me. From the dollar amount of the checks, it was obvious he had chosen the lower pension.

Two weeks after receiving the death certificate, the company rep asked for Scott’s birth certificate. Two weeks after that, our marriage license. Two weeks after that, she requested the original Social Security card I applied for at age 16. A friend, a retired district judge, pointed out that companies get only 30 days to resolve such issues. I called and told the representative that this limit had been exceeded. Amazingly, she called the next day and said everything was resolved.

Still, she insisted on sending the three months of withheld pension payments to my old address, even though I had provided proof of my new address weeks earlier.

Lengthy waits

Expedia required a death certificate and 30 days to quit sending Scott emails. I couldn’t just unsubscribe him because he once had been booked on a flight through Expedia, the online travel agency’s fine print disclosed.

At our bank, I had to make one appointment with an official to delete Scott’s name from our joint checking and savings accounts, and another to change beneficiaries on that account. I was told to plan 90 minutes for the first visit. (It took two hours.)

Most of the time was spent sitting in the banker’s cubicle, waiting while he tried to get the bank’s estate management group to answer the phone. He waited on hold for 43 minutes while I sat there. Deleting Scott’s name took a few minutes. The banker hung up without asking about the credit card linked to that account and had to call back. We waited another 18 minutes for the phone to be answered.

My return appointment for the beneficiaries took another hour sitting in that cubicle.

Many of these red-tape problems are made more galling as they often require phone calls with endless waits on hold. When representatives finally connect, they invariably start by the rote and insincere “sorry for your loss” scripts.

Grief is hard enough. Dealing with tech barriers and nonsensical policies make the months after a death into a second career of aggravating phone calls, emails and visits.

How to reduce these irritations

To minimize these frustrations, here are a few suggestions learned the hard way:

1. Keep an updated list of recurring credit card charges, organized by each card.

2. Make sure you have a credit card you applied for in your name.

3. Get a password manager to hold all your user names and passwords and make sure your executor knows your master password. If you have some accounts that are not included in a password manager, make sure your executor knows what they are (and also remember to update any list in case you change them periodically).

4. Buy at least six copies of the death certificate. Some companies allow you to email copies, but others require the physical certificate.

5. Do an inventory now and make sure you have birth and marriage certificates, adoption or divorce documents and Social Security cards. After many decades of marriage and multiple moves, some of these documents may have gotten lost. It can take weeks to get copies from the various agencies.

6. Don’t put the will or other important documents in a safe-deposit box. Getting access to it can be a lengthy process, particularly if your loved one misplaced the key. Even with a key, if family members suddenly need to get a loved one’s medical power of attorney outside of bank hours, for example, they are out of luck.

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!

How to be a widow

— A guide from a wife who doesn’t know either

When I lost my husband to brain cancer, I learned there is no road map for grief


Since my husband, Bill, died of brain cancer in June, I’ve found myself unclear about what it means to grieve. If I’m driving our kids to school and thinking about Bill, does that count as grieving? Is watching TV to distract myself somehow an expression of grief?

When I see his eyes at night and it’s unbearable, I think, “This is grief; I am grieving.”


I am not rending my garments or wailing, but nonetheless I am a widow.

This new status felt strange at first, but then I decided it gave me license to disregard social norms and act how I wanted.

At a Girl Scouts meeting with a lot of parents I do not know, I make no effort to socialize. I just stand in a corner, not doing or saying anything. I don’t even bother to look at my phone.

I feel somehow superior to all the non-widows. I understand this might seem wrong. I’m not sure when my widow’s license expires.

What I wish I had known

Here’s what I wish someone had told us when Bill was diagnosed with glioblastoma: You just got a death sentence. You may feel optimistic because you’re young and still in good shape, and your tumor has a supposedly “good” mutation. But you have no way of knowing how much longer you’ll be alive. Wasting time now is folly.

Do what you want to do, go where you want to go, say what you want to say. Do it now. If you don’t, by the time you realize you really want to do that thing, go to that place, say whatever it is, it will be too late.

Nobody fights cancer

I don’t know how this vocabulary about “fighting cancer” got started, but it’s sadly misleading. For most people, having cancer is an entirely passive experience. All you do is lie around while people carve you up, inject stuff into you, and take pictures of your body.

Then, if you die, you’ve lost the fight — almost as if there were a scenario where you could have won if you had just fought harder.

What doctors don’t say

As soon as Bill’s tumor recurred, the doctors knew how this was going down. They couldn’t say, “The medical community has not yet figured out how to treat or even manage recurrent glioblastoma, so prepare to die.” But they had seen this show before, and their attitude toward Bill’s treatment became somehow more perfunctory.

We got Bill into a fancy immunotherapy trial that used a vaccine made from his cells, but I don’t think his lead doctor ever thought it was going to work. In fact, I’m pretty sure he actually said “I don’t think the vaccine’s going to work,” but he kind of said it into his elbow over Zoom, so I can’t be certain.

About five months before Bill died, this doctor and I talked on the phone, and he basically gave it to me straight. But Bill still couldn’t handle the truth, so I had to put on a hopeful face with him.

Bill died 18 months after his diagnosis. By the time the truth was unavoidable, his brain had stopped working, and it was too late to discuss it with him.

There’s a lot of driving when you have cancer

Bill always drove whenever we went anywhere. But after one of his surgeries eroded some peripheral vision, he couldn’t drive anymore.

He thought I was a terrible driver and would sit there silently fuming — often tired or in pain — as we drove to and from UCLA for his treatments. If you know Los Angeles, the drive from Pasadena to Westwood can be an absolute nightmare.

I started joking to people that the only thing worse than having brain cancer is driving from Pasadena to UCLA at rush hour. This always got a laugh.

I wonder now how long Bill would have lived without all those treatments. The question is unanswerable. But we definitely would have wasted less time stuck in gridlock on the 10.

There’s less crying than you might think

I’ve only really cried once, in a coffee shop with a friend. I managed to get control of myself, but it made me scared to cry because I fear I would never stop.

People have advised me to let go and cry. Maybe someday I will.

People keep telling me how ‘strong’ I must be

This may come off as a “humblebrag,” but I’m really not. I am just playing the hand I got dealt, which unfortunately has recently featured caring for a dying husband along with two kids and a dog.

Not long before that — and this also feels weirdly like bragging — I survived my own serious bout with breast cancer. Also, my mother suddenly died while I was getting chemo.

Nonetheless, I have to get up every morning because my kids depend on me.

Once they’re out of the house, maybe I’ll stop being “strong” and lie facedown on the floor for, like, a year.

Now we are three

I’m still not used to our family shrinking from four to three, and I don’t yet understand how we’re supposed to live this way.

My older daughter acts like nothing happened and nothing’s wrong. My younger daughter asks me, “Mommy, are you going to die?”

Bill would always say he just wanted to stay alive long enough to see them graduate from high school. He died before they even finished elementary school.

How people responded

I know that death scares people, and they don’t know what to say. Even some of my closest friends backed away when Bill was dying. Some of them said they didn’t want to bother me or feared I might be too busy.

I was busy some of the time, but other times I was just sitting in a chair waiting. Often, I screened calls because I wasn’t up for talking. But I appreciated the people who kept trying anyway and who understood that inside all the tragedy, it was still just me.

Thank you, National Basketball Association

Bill and I had our favorite TV shows, like most couples, but at a certain point he could no longer see the TV or follow the plots. Neither audiobooks nor podcasts held his interest either.

The NBA finals arrived as an unexpected godsend.

Bill was a big basketball fan and was content in his recliner listening endlessly to the games. There was a group of commentators he particularly liked involving some guy named Kenny “The Jet” Smith; he got more enjoyment out of those dudes than almost anything else in his final months of life.

I kept worrying the NBA Finals would end, but they just kept going!

Conversation stoppers

In the months since Bill died, there have been multiple occasions when I’ve had to decide whether to tell someone I don’t know well about his death.

Early on, it would come up in the “What have you been up to this summer?” conversations. I hadn’t really thought it through, so I would babble something like, “Well, not much, pretty low-key, I mean actually my husband died, sorry, you don’t have to say anything, anyway what have you been up to?”

These exchanges made me intensely uncomfortable, so I basically stopped talking about it.

A friend pointed out that my discomfort arose from what I perceived as being the other person’s discomfort. She said I should just tell people about Bill and let them deal with their awkward feelings.

Things I try not to think about

Caring for Bill created some moments of deep connection between us. But there were also tasks I had to perform, and he endure, that were demeaning and awful for both of us.

I try not to really think about this stuff, or about how at these times my love for him felt more like pity.


Bill died in the night. We called up the hospice people and a funeral parlor. Then I crawled up onto the rickety hospital bed in our living room and embraced him for several hours till they arrived.

I said goodbye and how much I loved him, and I feel like he heard me even though I know that’s not possible. It didn’t feel like a corpse; it still felt like Bill.

The magic of material things

The house is still filled with Bill’s clothes, law school books, shoes, electronics, records, etc. I now understand why people keep their loved one’s belongings around for years or keep their room just as it was.

The presence of all his stuff makes me feel closer to him and even sometimes lets me imagine he didn’t die at all. Maybe he will magically reappear and want to look something up in his torts textbook. If so, I will be ready.


There is so much bureaucratic stuff to deal with after your husband dies. I’m not even close to sorting it all out. It often requires sending a death certificate

Having to prove to people that Bill actually, really died feels crazy.

They all tell me they’re sorry for my loss. Not sorry enough to spare me their bureaucratic rigmarole, though.

Lighter moments

My final words to my husband after a conversation with his brother about Bill’s favorite actor, Paul Ruddwere “I hope you dream of Paul Rudd.” Obviously, I didn’t plan it that way — I thought we had a couple more days. He did really like Paul Rudd, though.

After we scattered Bill’s ashes in a stream in Ashland, Ore., I noticed a sign saying that this particular tributary provided drinking water for city residents. Oh, well. It was obviously too late — once again — to do anything about it.

There was also a stressful but somewhat hilarious situation involving competing meal trains that I didn’t want to find out about each other. There were some near misses, and I spent a lot of time running around hiding food.

Does this get easier?

The shock is wearing off and I’m sadder now than right after Bill died.

I think many people understand that grief is not a linear process, and so what I’m experiencing is not unusual. But I also have the feeling that people now expect me to function normally, since it’s been a while

I wonder when it will get easier, and whether that question is somehow a betrayal of Bill. I know he would not want me and the girls to suffer, but how can we not?

Complete Article HERE!

Death as Life’s Work

In her new book, Hayley Campbell seeks to demystify death by sharing the perspectives of funeral home directors, gravediggers and others

By Robert DiGiacomo

What happens when people die is often glossed over. Yet as the adage goes, death is one of life’s few certainties.

Journalist Hayley Campbell in her new book, “All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work,” sets out to demystify death by writing about “the naked, banal reality of this thing that will come to us all.”

It’s a subject for which Campbell, 36, has been preparing for most of her life. As a little girl, she recalls death being ever present — she drew dead bodies after seeing her comic book artist father’s graphic novel about Jack the Ripper in progress, questioned the version of death from her Catholic school education and saw her first body at 12, when her friend, Harriet, drowned while trying to rescue her dog. The London-based Campbell has since written regularly about death and related topics for Wired, BuzzFeed, Vice and other publications.

“On an existential level, we have to think about death; not only will we die, but everyone we know and love will die.”

In “All the Living and the Dead,” Campbell spends time with those whose professional lives revolve around death, including funeral directors, gravediggers and an executioner. Warning to anyone who’s squeamish: She provides vivid details of what it’s like to dress the dead, perform an autopsy and process bodies for use in medical education.

“On an existential level, we have to think about death; not only will we die but everyone we know and love will die,” Campbell told Next Avenue. “I can see why people would avoid that topic, but once you start talking about death with people for whom it’s their job, you can see how you can compartmentalize it.”

Here are some key takeways about death — and life — from Campbell and the book:

Death is Never Far Away, Whether We Acknowledge It or Not

As part of her research, Campbell went places where few civilians dare. “We don’t want to think about it, so it’s sort of a secret,” Campbell says of many death rituals. “I love seeing the stuff that as a general civilian person you can’t see. It can be behind doors you pass every day — on every high street, there is a funeral home — but you don’t realize something interesting is happening there every day.”

Even when we must go to a funeral home, whether to plan a service for a loved one or attend a memorial, the experience is usually a fleeting encounter. For those in the funeral industry, it’s their way of being.

“It was a huge privilege to talk to those people,” Campbell says. “The thing they kept telling me was they do this job every day. When families have to use them, the family will be hugely involved and their best friends for two weeks. After the funeral, they will disappear and go back to not thinking that embalmers exist. I wanted to get through the appreciation of the work that has to happen. The world would look completely different if we didn’t have people collecting the bodies.”

There’s a Difference Between Being Desensitized and Detached About Death

As we enter middle age, death becomes ever more prominent, as we face the loss of parents, siblings, close friends, a spouse or partner — and our own mortality. Yet few of us are prepared for major loss. But when death is your reality, you have to develop a way to compartmentalize.

“People think death workers must be desensitized, but there’s a difference between people being desensitized and detached in a way that’s helpful,” Campbell says. “They’re not not thinking about death — they have thought about it a lot and stepped back just enough to do their jobs. They have thought about it so much that they have made peace with it. But I don’t think we as a society have been able to deal with it. So when someone dies, we completely fall apart.”

A New Generation is Rethinking the Funeral Ritual

As a younger generation — including more women — enter the funeral industry, rituals and attitudes are changing. This might mean a more personalized funeral service, a natural burial without a body being embalmed or even loved ones participating in a traditional ritual like dressing the dead, as Campbell did as part of her research.

“The role of the funeral director has changed to more of a counselor role rather than someone who just organizes the hearse,” Campbell says. “I do think women are changing it. Female funeral directors are more into letting families do things the way they want. But if they want tradition, they will organize it with the horse and the cart. I think they are just more open — the thing that is common among all the women in the funeral industry is they want to give people a voice and not force a certain way of doing anything on anyone.”

“The role of the funeral director has changed to more of a counselor role rather than someone who just organizes the hearse.”

Details Matter When Handling the End of Someone’s Life

Whether it’s the funeral director who kept underwear and socks in different sizes because families often forgot to bring undergarments for their loved one and he couldn’t live with someone not being properly dressed in their casket — or a gravedigger who provided a certain type of soil for the minster to throw on a coffin that would land more softly, those dealing with death regularly understand the difference the smallest details can make.

“They all had a sense of compassion and a sense of empathy,” Campbell says. “They all were doing little things in their job that no one would notice but they felt was the right thing to do. It may seem like something small, but when you think about grieving people and how they are so sensitive to everything, they are massive.”

Death Has a Way of Grounding You

Having written about death for most of her career, Campbell is not someone who’s faint of heart. But having immersed herself in death for three years to write the book, she came away with a new appreciation for life.

“It’s not like my eyes have been opened to things that I didn’t know about but the details have been filled in,” Campbell says. “I’ve seen dead babies and old, old dead people. I’m far more conscious of the old cliché that life is short. That is true, but you have no idea how much time you’re going to get. I think I’m more conscious of time.”

Complete Article HERE!