Do you prefer to be buried or cremated when you die?
If you feel like me, the answer is neither. I recoil at the thought of my body burning well over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit or being pumped full of toxic chemicals and spending the rest of eternity in a cramped box 6 feet underground.
So here’s another question: what do you think about your body being composted and used to plant a tree, grow flowers, or repair depleted soil in a forest?
Human composting doesn’t mean you’re thrown in a trash can with potato peelings, crushed eggshells and coffee grounds. Instead, you would be placed in a metal or wooden container, wrapped in organic materials such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw, then slowly reduced to nutrient-rich soil. The process can take six weeks to six months depending on the methods used.
I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of this (at least compared to these other two options).
“I never felt like I had an option that worked for me until now,” says Assembly Member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens). She wrote an invoicesigned last month by Governor Gavin Newsom, to legalize human composting in California.
California becomes the fifth state to allow this method of body disposal, commonly known by the more scientific name of “natural organic reduction”. Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have legalized the practice, and legislation is pending in several other states.
The California law takes effect in 2027, giving regulators time to set the rules that will govern human composting in the state.
But it’s never too early to start planning your death.
Heather Andersen, a 68-year-old consultant and former hospice nurse in Seattle, says she once chose to be composted when she died because it’s much kinder to the environment than burial or cremation.
“We’re actually improving the Earth rather than taking it away,” she says. And there is a spiritual dimension to her decision, she says, since she “will come back to be part of the whole cycle of life.”
Andersen, who is in good health, purchased a prepaid composting plan from rediala Seattle-based green funeral home whose founder, Katrina Spade, is widely considered a pioneer of natural organic reduction for humans.
California is the fifth state to legalize human composting, since Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill last month.
A naturally shrunken human body can produce between 250 and 1,000 pounds of soil depending on the method used and the type and volume of organic matter mixed into the body. That’s enough to fill several wheelbarrows or the bed of a pick-up truck. After the process is complete, many families take a small box of soil and donate the rest to conservation projects or flower farms.
Of course, being composted after death isn’t for everyone. For example, the California Catholic Conference opposes the new law. The methods involved, he said in a statement, “reduce the human body to a disposable commodity, and we should instead seek options that respect both our natural world and the dignity of the deceased.”
Those who have chosen to compost their bodies are generally motivated by ecological concerns.
With natural organic reduction, “what we’re really doing is taking anything that continues to be alive in a human body after the human being has left it and turning it into something that can actually nourish planet,” says Holly Blue Hawkins, of Santa Cruz County, whose Latest Respects Consulting offers death planning services.
After death, the human body retains many elements a mineral that nourishes plants, including carbon, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen and phosphorus.
Traditional burials pose many problems. Formaldehyde in embalming fluid puts funeral workers at risk of trouble such as an irregular heartbeat, a dangerous buildup of fluid in the lungs and, over time, cancer. In addition, the toxic substances contained in the embalming liquid can seep into the ground.
Without forgetting that there is just is there not enough land in the cemeteries so that everyone has their own plot indefinitely in the future.
Cremation, on the other hand, emits many pollutants which are harmful to humans, as well as millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year. And the percentage of people choosing cremation is growing rapidly, mainly because it’s cheaper than a funeral. The cremation should represent 59% of body kills this year and 79% by 2040, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. With about 3 million Americans dying every year, that’s a lot of bodies that burn.
Human composting has only recently emerged as an alternative to burial and cremation.
Since Recompose opened in December 2020, the company has composted less than 200 bodies. “Obviously that’s a tiny fraction of the people that are dying in Washington state,” Spade says. But 1,200 customers have prepaid for the natural organic discount, which she says is a sign of its growing appeal.
Many funeral directors view human composting as an important business opportunity in a A $20 billion industry.
“Our landlords have had discussions about expanding across the country as more states legalize it,” says David Heckel, advanced planning consultant at The natural funeral in Lafayette, Colorado.