Starting May 1, 2020, there will be a new option on the table for what someone can do with their remains after they die. Recently passed Senate Bill 5001 will allow residents of Washington to have their body “recomposed,” essentially human composting.
Currently, The Reflector could only find one business capitalizing human composting; it’s called, naturally, Recompose.
Recompose plans to build its facility in Seattle, where it will be the only one in the world to offer these services.
Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, is excited about all the positive feedback from different people.
“I heard from one person in her 90s who called her Senators and told them to please hurry on up and vote yes,” she wrote in a news release.
“Why shouldn’t our deaths give back to the earth and reconnect us with the natural cycles?” she later wrote. “At the same time, we’re aiming to provide ritual, to help people have a more direct and conscious experience around this really important event.”
How it works
Before one decides to toss human remains in with the eggshells and grass clippings, there are a few things they should know.
This can only legally be done by professionals and Recompose hasn’t even started taking appointments yet. However, interested parties can subscribe to their updates by going to the Recompose website. That doesn’t mean one cannot request to be recomposed in their will, or let their family know about their wishes before sign-ups are available.
The process of recomposing happens inside of a recomposition vessel that is reusable. A corpse is covered in natural materials and over the course of three to seven weeks, the body is broken down, creating a cubic yard of soil per person. The soil is like the topsoil someone would buy from a store. Families of the deceased are allowed to take all of it or just a portion.
Thanks to the help of thermophilic microbes and beneficial bacteria, everything is broken down, including bones and teeth. Each vessel provides the perfect level of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture to help the microbes thrive. While non-organic materials such as artificial hips, metal fillings, pacemakers, and artificial limbs don’t break down, Recompose will screen for them during the process and recycle them when possible.
The only time someone isn’t a candidate for recomposing is if they die from a prion disease, such as Ebola, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This is because while the recomposition process destroys most harmful pathogens, there’s not enough evidence currently to show it breaks down prion disease.
How it compares to other options
Currently, according to Recompose, 76 percent of Washington state residents and over half of the American population choose to have their remains cremated. However, cremation isn’t easy, requiring an intensive energy process that emits more than 600 million pounds of CO2 annually in the U.S. If you decided to bury, the total cost of the casket, headstone and grave can run upwards of $25,000.
The estimated cost to be recomposed falls at about $5,500 dollars, costing nearly the same as cremation.
“We estimate that a metric ton of CO2 will be saved each time someone chooses recomposition over cremation or conventional burial,” Recompose writes on their website.
With carbon dioxide levels reaching their highest point in the past 800,000 years, it’s important to consider how to leave a lighter CO2 footprint. According to a study by NASA, the rising carbon dioxide concentrations are causing the planet to heat up and makes the ocean more acidic, putting marine life in danger.
What local gardeners and funeral workers think
One local Clark County gardener, who wished to be anonymous, said he and his wife are big advocates for Recomposition for the environmental benefits.
“Why I personally want to do it is because I think it’s quite wasteful on the land and expensive for the families to put someone in a casket, have them embalmed, and bury them in the ground. Why take up all that land for someone who isn’t here anymore?” He said. “I think it’s one of those things nowadays where it should be mandatory, because we’re running out of space, and we’re running out of resources.”
Shareefah Hoover, the 2015 Master Composter/Recycler Volunteer of the Year and the winner of the 2017 Clark County Green Neighbor award has already had a conversation with her family about having her remains recomposed. She’s very excited for Washington to take this step and become a model for the rest of the country.
“I think it’s beneficial because it returns organic material back to the land, that nature can then use,” she said, “This is a much more sustainable, less expensive alternative that is environmentally sound.”
“It’s another way to expand on your legacy in terms of contributing to healthy soil, keeping material out of the landfill, and it’s living on by providing a sustainable way to deal with the end of life,” Hoover added.
While Denton Harlan, owner of Layne’s Battle Ground Funeral, is undecided on if he will have his remains recomposed, he’s glad to have another option, even if it does seem a little stinky.
“I’m too familiar with the decomposition of the body to say that it’s a perfect thing for everyone,” he said. “With the elements that they are using, I don’t see how they could do it in an odorless capacity.”