Dead, buried, and growing: How human composting could be a game-changer for the funeral industry

Recompose, a Seattle-based firm is the first to have developed a system that is able to transform a body into soil in about a month. It has come into focus after the state of Washington signed a bill to legalize human composting on May 22.


                            Dead, buried, and growing: How human composting could be a game-changer for the funeral industry

Human composting sounds like a strange thing when you first hear about it and it is natural that a person will be having questions as to What is it? How is it possible and if it is viable?

In fact, most of these questions emerged soon after the state of Washington signed a bill to legalize human composting. It allows licensed facilities to offer natural organic reduction, which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows' worth of soil in a span of several weeks.

This brings us to Recompose, a Seattle-based company which promises to build the first urban “organic reduction” funeral home in the country. It announced that it opened its Series A round of financing and has raised $6.75 million from investors for this project.

Recompose, which is a public benefit corporation, developed a system that is able to transform a body into soil in about a month. The corporation raised a seed round of $693,000 in investments last year, which it used to prove how safe the process is via a research pilot, called The Recomposition Science Project, with Washington State University.

Founder and CEO of Recompose, Katrina Spade (Source: Recompose/Supplied)

The corporation also used the seed money to complete the engineering of its patent-pending system and then advocated for legislation in the state which passed with broad bipartisan support in April this year. The natural organic reduction process, which is the contained and accelerated conversion of human remains into soil, was legalized in Washington state on May 22 for the disposition of human remains.

Recompose is currently preparing to open Recompose|SEATTLE, which will be the first facility in the world where the service will be offered to the public. The service has been touted as an alternative to burial and cremation, which at this time is the most popular form of disposition in the country. With Recompose's new service being offered, it will avoid the waste and emissions of both methods. 

It is also said to sequester carbon emissions which could make it a potential game changer for the funeral industry. A lifecycle assessment that compared death care options had estimated that around 1.4 metric tons of carbon will be saved per person if they choose to go with Recompose's service. The need of the hour in this day and age is sustainable funerary practices as 10,000 Americans turn 65 on a daily basis.

An artist's impression of the Recompose|SEATTLE facility in the works (Source: Recompose/Supplied)

Katrina Spade, Founder and CEO of Recompose, said: "People want an option that aligns with the way they’ve lived their lives. They care about climate change, and they want to leave a legacy that gives back to the earth." The numbers also add up with 64% of US citizens showing interest in eco-friendly funeral options in 2015.

Aside from the environmental impact, Recompose has stressed intention and authenticity. It also has the aim of helping families "create meaningful rituals around the death of a loved one". The company is planning to open and operate composting centers where families can gather and where the bodies will be transformed into soil. With tremendous savings in carbon emissions and land usage, the corporation addresses the increasing demands for green alternatives.

Recompose stated: "If every WA resident chose recomposition as their after-death preference, we would save over a 1/2 million metric tons of CO2 in just 10 years. That’s the equivalent of the energy required to power 54,000 homes for a year."

Katrina Spade poses for a photo in a cemetery in Seattle, as she displays a sample of compost material left from the decomposition of a cow using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw (Source: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Senator Jamie Pederson, who sponsored the bill, said: "What I think is remarkable is that this universal, human experience of death remains almost untouched by technology. In fact, the only two methods for disposition of human remains that are authorized in our statutes have been with us for thousands of years: burying a body or burning a body."

A broad community of supporters has formed around Recompose and many residents in the state took part in grassroots action to help the bill get passed. Spade said that she was ecstatic about the response from the community. "I heard from one person in her 90’s who called her senators and told them to please hurry on up and vote yes," she added.

The founder now looks toward a future where every death helps create healthy soil and heal the planet. Spade said: "We asked ourselves how we could use nature -- which has totally perfected the life/death cycle -- as a model for human death care. Why shouldn’t our deaths give back to the earth and reconnect us with the natural cycles? At the same time, we’re aiming to provide the ritual, to help people have a more direct and conscious experience around this really important event."

 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center, turns to talk with Katrina Spade, upper left, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., before signing a bill into law that allows licensed facilities to offer "natural organic reduction" (Source: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

"As hard as it can be, the end of one’s life is a profound moment -- for ourselves and for the friends and families we leave behind." Now that the bill has been passed in Washington State, the Department of Licensing is creating a regulatory structure for the new disposition option pioneered by Recompose.

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