Compost funerals could become an alternative for human cremation as they’re better for the environment - this is what it involves

Monday, 17th February 2020, 12:11 pm
Updated Monday, 17th February 2020, 12:13 pm
Would you want a compost funeral? (Photo: Shutterstock)
Would you want a compost funeral? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Soon to be available in the US from next year is human composting - a supposedly more environmentally friendly method of human burial than cremation.

Could human composting funerals become the norm for burials? This is everything you need to know about the practice.

What are compost funerals?

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American company Recompose says that they offer “an alternative choice to cremation and conventional burial methods”.

“Our service - recomposition - gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die,” the website explains.

The process is designed to return bodies back to the earth in a way that is environmentally friendly and an alternative to traditional burial methods with caskets and embalming bodies.

How do they work?

The process involves laying down the body in a closed, reusable, vessels covered in wood chips, alfalfa and hay, which is then sealed away in hexagonal tubes.

Non-organics like metal fillings, pacemakers and artificial limbs are screened for and recycled wherever possible.

From there, the body's temperature is regulated whilst the surroundings are aerated, which allows the naturally occurring bacteria to break down the body over the course of four to seven weeks.

The process creates about a “cubic yard of soil per person”, where friends and families will be welcome to take some (or all) home, where the soil can be used to grow a tree or in a garden.

How are they better for the environment?

Speaking to BBC News, Recompose chief executive and founder, Katrina Spade, explained that worries about climate change had acted as a big factor in people expressing interest in the unusual burial method.

She said: “So far 15,000 people have signed up to our newsletter. And the legislation to allow this in the state received bi-partisan support enabling it to pass the first time it was tabled.”

Spade added: “The project has moved forward so quickly because of the urgency of climate change the awareness we have to put it right.”

She claims that the natural organic reduction of a body prevents 1.4 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere, compared with cremation.

“By converting human remains into soil, we minimise waste, avoid polluting groundwater with embalming fluid, and prevent the emissions of CO2 from cremation and from the manufacturing of caskets, headstones and grave liners,” the website states.

The Recompose team conducted studies into the benefits of this form of burial and found that an estimated “metric ton of CO2 will be saved each time someone chooses organic reduction over cremation or conventional burial”.

How much will they cost?

The FAQ section of the Recompose website explains that they are “tentatively aiming” for a price of $5500 for the Recompose service.

To put that into context, a green burial in Washington, where the firm is based, is around $6000, cremation can range between $1000 and $7000, and a conventional burial is $8000+.

The price of the Recompose service includes:

The transportation of the body to the Recompose facility in Washington, from within the Seattle metropolitan areaThe filing of the death certificateTime with family and friends in the Recompose spaceThe transformation of the body into soil

When will it be available outside the US?

Recompose will begin its business later this year, but the process is currently only legal only in Washington State. Legislation to allow this practise if being considered by Colorado.

Spade thinks that it’ll only be a matter of time before it’s more widely available - not just in the US, but around the world.

Spade said: “We hope that other states will pick up the idea once we get going in Washington. We have had lots of excitement from the UK and other parts of the world and we hope to open branches overseas when we can.”