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Human Composting: An Overview

On May 1st, 2020, Washington State became the first state in the US to allow composting human remains as a legal method of disposition. Composting bodies was previously not possible and may give some people a general sense of uneasiness, but it’s one of the most environmentally friendly and natural methods of disposition available today.

What is human composting?

Body composting, also known as natural organic reduction, is a method of disposition that speeds up the natural decomposition process and turns a body into usable soil. In short, the body is placed inside a vessel or container, other organic materials are added to the container, and then the container is heated. The body will naturally turn into human compost in less than a month’s time.

A breakdown of the process

Here’s what the natural organic reduction process looks like.

Step 1: The body is stored in a vessel or container provided by the company. These containers can be made out of wood or metal.

Step 2: The container is then filled with oxygen and organic material which includes fungi, organic organisms, and other bacteria depending on the company you’re working with. These additions are crucial to the composting process and will effectively speed up the process of naturally decomposing the body.

Step 3: The container is kept at 130 - 160 degrees fahrenheit through rotation and solar panels. By heating up the container, the composting process is sped up and also ensures that the soil is non-toxic at the end of the process, by killing off all dangerous or harmful bacteria.

Step 4: The body slowly decomposes into soil. The amount of time the body takes to decompose isn’t exact, but Recompose, one of the first human composting providers, tells folks the process will take less than 30 days total to complete.

Step 5: The soil is returned to the family. At the end of the composting process, the remains are reduced to soil and are given to the family so that they can use the soil to spread or plant a garden or a tree.

Where is human composting allowed?

At the time of writing, composting human remains is only legal in the state of Washington.

How do you choose body composting as your method of disposition?

If you’re a Washington resident, you’ll be able to go to one of three different providers of natural human composting. Recompose, Return Home, and Herland are all natural human composting providers that offer their services in the state of Washington.

How much does human composting cost?

The cost of human composting is one of the benefits that goes along with this method of disposition. Recompose offers their human composting services for $5,500 total, which includes:

  • The natural organic reduction process
  • Transportation of the body
  • The “laying-in” (where the body is placed into the vessel, similar to a viewing)
  • The soil
  • Death certificate filing
  • An obituary

This is significantly less expensive when compared to a traditional burial which usually costs around $9,000. Return Home, a competitor of Recompose, offers their services for $4,500. The least expensive of the three companies that currently offer body composting is Herland, which charges $3,000 for their natural organic reduction services.

What are the benefits of composting human bodies?

Composting a body has many benefits when compared to other methods of disposition:

  • Body composting is a very affordable option, starting out at $3,000. While it’s not as cheap as direct burial or cremation, it is still less expensive than a traditional burial with similar services.
  • Human compost is environmentally friendly and sustainable. The body decomposition process includes only organic materials, avoiding toxic chemicals that are used in the traditional burial process.
  • According to Recompose, by choosing body composting, individuals are preventing “one metric ton of carbon dioxide” from entering the atmosphere when compared to conventional burial.
  • Families are able to use the soil that’s created to start their own garden, spread over a special area, or plant a tree, which can be healing.

What are the potential downsides to human composting?

Here are some of the downsides you may find with human composting:

  • If you're religious, you may have difficulty in that your religion may not recognize human composting as an acceptable form of disposition. It's worth talking to your religious leader if you have questions about this.
  • Due to the nature and newness of this method of disposition, friends and family may feel apprehensive about it as an acceptable form of disposition.
  • You may have difficulty locating a human composition company due to its limited availability.

What are religious views on human composting?

The Catholic Church has denounced human composting as “undignified” and does not view it as an acceptable method of disposition. Other official religious organizations have yet to comment on the practice of human composting, likely due to its relative newness.

While the cost of human composting is less expensive than a traditional funeral, it’s still an expense many families struggle with covering. Starting a funeral fundraiser can help you raise funds to cover unexpected funeral costs in as little as two business days. If you’re in need of help, start collecting donations today.

Start a fundraiser

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Last updated December 14, 2021
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