There is a new alternative to burial and cremation – human composting. Scientifically referred to as Natural Organic Reduction (NOR), it is the latest sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to a body being embalmed before burial. (The U.S. uses more than 8000,000 gallons of embalming fluid in a year, which after burial seeps out into our ground.)
How It Works
|Preparing for NOR (Recompose)
The process of human composting involves the body being placed in an 8-foot steel cylinder that is filled with wood chips or sawdust, and alfalfa straw. Oxygen is added, and the container is kept between 130 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit to speed up decomposition.
|An Earth Funeral Vessel
Once the decomposition begins, the cylinder is rotated so that the remains continue to break down. The process takes 30 to 40 days
and results in around a cubic yard
of nutrient-rich soil (and bone fragments), just like you get from your backyard compost pile. The cost is around $5,000.
| Return Home Composting
Families may claim the composted soil for burial, or scattering. Some conservation groups will also accept human compost. It is a sustainable alternative in metro areas where traditional burial grounds are filling up.
Now Legal in Six States
Human Composting was first legalized in Washington State in 2019 by a new company called Recompose.
By April 2021, Colorado had also legalized NOR, followed quickly by Oregon. In 2022, California and Vermont joined the group. And in January 2023, New York legalized the process.
Companies That Offer Human Composting
Recompose is the company that started it all. Founded in 2017 by Katrina Spade, it was the first human composting funeral home in the U.S. Recompose offers a way to “recycle” ourselves while creating a sustainable future. The facility also offers tours.
Earth Funeral offers carbon-neutral funerals. Located in Oregon and Washington, their soil transformation takes about 45 days. Families may accept the compost, scatter it and plant a flower or tree, or donate it to the Olympic Peninsula conservation site for land restoration projects.
Herland Forest began as a non-profit natural burial cemetery in Washington State. Located on the edge of the Cascadian wilderness, Herland Forest is committed to helping an individual complete the “circle of life.” A video and slideshow explain natural burial.
Return Home is a full service green funeral home in Seattle,
Washington. Operating the world’s largest NOR facility, families may visit a loved one’s vessel during the 30 to 60 day process. Their 8-acre woodland offers dedicated space for scattering composting remains.
Leaving the Earth a Better Place
Natural and green burials have become popular during the 21st century. Human composting may be the next eco-alternative process, along with flame cremation, and water cremation in the U.S.
Time will tell.