We know there are many ways to die, but who knew there were so many after-death options?
Such as those described in this undated article:
“Burial alternatives” aren’t something I spend time thinking about, but a recent article about yet another after-death option caught my eye:
Are they talking about composting as in:
This sounded so weird…and even creepy…that I was curious.
According to the above Los Angeles Times article, the human composting process is:
“…natural organic reduction, a method in which human remains naturally decompose over a 30-to-45-day period after being placed in a steel vessel and buried in wood chips, alfalfa and other biodegradable materials. The nutrient-dense soil created by the process can then be returned to families or donated to conservation land.”
I guess they are – sort of – talking about this:
The article said that California is joining Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Vermont in allowing human composting, and mentioned a Seattle, WA company, Recompose.
Here’s what happens, according to the Recompose website.
If the deceased, family and/or loved ones so choose, Recompose offers what it calls the “laying-in ceremony”:
“The laying-in ceremony is similar to a graveside service or a green funeral and allows you the opportunity to honor your loved one with care and respect.”
“The body is present on a dark green bed – the cradle – and shrouded in natural cloth and greenery for the laying-in ceremony.
“At the end of the ceremony, the cradle is moved into the threshold vessel, where the transformation into soil begins.”
The next step is “soil transformation” – the “composting” part:
“Your loved one’s body will be surrounded by wood chips, alfalfa, and straw in a vessel where microbes will naturally break the body down. The entire process, from placing your person into the vessel to finished soil, takes between six to eight weeks.”
I’m surprised to say that I thought I’d be feeling squeamish at this point – but I wasn’t.
How about you?
And now the last step: Soil transformation/giving back:
“Once complete, similar to ashes from a cremation, the soil can be used however you choose – to enrich a garden, plant a tree, or spread across multiple locations. If you prefer not to keep all, or any, of the soil, we will donate it to Bells Mountain, 700 acres of conserved land in southern Washington.”
As with every topic these days, there are widely differing points of view. Again from the Los Angeles Times article, here’s a pro-human-composting opinion:
“Supporters say it’s an eco-friendly alternative to traditional end-of-life options. Cremation, for example, is an energy-intense process that produces carbon dioxide emissions, while traditional burial uses chemicals to embalm bodies and a nonbiodegradable coffin to store them.”
“…for every person who is composted versus buried or cremated, the environmental impact is immediate. The companies that offer human composting say that for every person who chooses the option over burial or cremation, it will save the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment.”
And – not that anybody asked them – but the Catholic Church chimed in with their anti-human-composting point of view:
“The California Catholic Conference opposed the bill, saying the process ‘reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.’
“‘The practice of respectfully burying the bodies or the honoring the ashes of the deceased comports with the virtually universal norm of reverence and care towards the deceased,’ said the group, which is the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in California.”
I could comment about the Catholic Church comporting with the “virtually universal norm” of not allowing priests to sexually abuse children, but I won’t
Recompose and other companies that offer human composting aren’t in this business for entirely ecological reasons, of course – this is a business, after all.
In this article:
The Seattle Times called Recompose “the first full-service human-composting funeral home in the United States,” and said:
“Recompose costs $5,500 for everything: the body pickup…the paperwork, the process itself and an optional service.”
That doesn’t seem out of bounds, when you consider the figures from this 2022 article:
“A 2021 study from the National Funeral Directors Association shows the median cost of an adult funeral with viewing and burial is $7,848…The median cost of an adult funeral with viewing and cremation is $6,970.”
And really – human composting doesn’t seem any stranger than some of the options offered in the above Lexikin article, like these:
There’s this option if you like bling:
And this option if you like to sing:
And…What the hell is this thing?
(The above three after-death options involve using cremated remains for a Memorial Diamond, a Vinyl Compression record, and Plastination, in case you were wondering.)
Now that I’ve had some time to process all this, human composting doesn’t seem all that weird or creepy to me, as I’d thought earlier.
How about you?
My normal modus operandi for closing a blog post is to have the last word, but this time I’ll turn that over to Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose. Below are excerpts from this interview:
I think Spade’s use of the phrase “death care” as a natural follow-up to “health care” is worth noting:
“…the problem is that people choose their death care, or they – I should say, they don’t choose their death care. They just go with the default. A lot of the time, it’s not a meaningful choice. It’s just, I guess I’ll cremate Grandma.”
“…it is worth noting that when you look at the avoidance of pollution from cremation and conventional burial…we’re saving about a metric ton of carbon per person.”
“…because we use so much plant material to cocoon the body, the final result is a cubic yard of soil…”
“I set out on a plan to redesign death care. Could I create a system that was beneficial to the Earth, that used nature as a guide rather than something to be feared, something that was gentle to the planet? That planet, after all, supports our living bodies our whole lives.”