© Washington State University
Washington residents ” are excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative ,” said State Senator Jamie Pedersen.
Normally when someone dies, most are buried or cremated. Washington could soon become the first state to allow another option: human composting.
It consists of placing the bodies in a container and accelerating their decomposition in a nutrient-dense soil that can then be returned to families.
Unembalmed human remains wrapped in a shroud are placed in a 1.5 by 3 meter cylindrical container with a bed of organic material such as wood chips, alfalfa and straw. Then, periodically air is drawn into the container, providing oxygen to accelerate microbial activity. In about a month, the remains are reduced to almost a cubic meter of compost that can be used to grow new plants.
Compost. Image: Suriyawut Suriya Shutterstock
The safety of the process depends on maintaining a temperature of 55ºC for 72 consecutive hours to destroy pathogens, according to Spade. This heat is generated by natural microbes.
The goal is to have a less expensive way of treating human remains and one that is more beneficial to the environment than traditional burial or cremation.
According to Senator Pedersen, he sees rebuilding as a matter of environmental and social justice. He said allowing it would particularly benefit people who cannot afford a funeral or are not comfortable with cremation.
Recompose estimates that such a burial would cost $5,500, while a traditional burial generally costs more than $7,000 in the US.
The idea comes from Katrina Spade, a Seattle designer who began developing this idea in 2013, while studying her master’s in architecture at the University of Massachusetts.
Spade’s initial goal was to design a system that would restore people’s connection to death and its aftermath, which she claimed had been cut in part by the funeral industry. A friend introduced her to the agricultural practice of composting livestock after her death. Called mortality composting, this practice has been shown to prevent pathogens from contaminating the soil, while also creating richer soil.
He worked with researchers from the University of Carolina and Washington State University to bring his idea to life, which he called “recomposition.”
Recomposing is not for everyone – some pathogens, such as the bacteria that cause anthrax, are known to survive composting in animals, so the safety of recomposition will depend on the exclusion of people with certain diseases.
More information: recompose.life