April 29, 2020 6:10 pm

A company will soon offer ‘human compost’ funerals as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional burial or cremation.

The world’s first human composting service, offered by Recompose, will become available in the USA’s Washington state from February 2021.

The launch comes after pilot studies were conducted on deceased volunteers, with results showing soft human tissue broke down safely and completely within 30 days.

In contrast to decomposing, which is what happens when bodies are left to decay above ground, recomposing involves integrating the body with soil. The deceased person is placed in a closed vessel with woodchips, alfalfa and straw grass, then slowly rotated to allow microbes to break it down.

Recompose calls the process ‘natural organic reduction’:

Our service – recomposition – gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die.

The firm’s chief executive and founder, Katrina Spade, told the BBC that natural organic reduction of a body prevents 1.4 tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere, compared with cremation.

Spade believes there is a similar saving compared to traditional burial, when transportation and the construction of the casket is taken into account.

Recompose has received a lot of interest from members of the public, with 15,000 people having already signed up to the company’s newsletter, according to the founder.

Concerns about climate change are thought to be a driving factor in the popularity of the idea, and the legislation to allow the process in Washington state passed after receiving bipartisan support.

Speaking about how the idea became a reality, Spade said:

The project has moved forward so quickly because of the urgency of climate change and the awareness we have to put it right.

For a lot of folks it resonates with the way they try to lead their lives. They want to pick a death care plan that resonates with the way they live.

The founder came up with the idea for Recompose 13 years ago, when she began thinking about her own funeral.

She explained:

When I die, this planet, which has protected and supported me my whole life, shouldn’t I give back what I have left?

It is just logical and also beautiful.

After 30 days in the closed vessel, the remains are made available to relatives to scatter on plants or a tree.

The technique has taken four years to perfect, and has been made possible with the help of soil scientist Professor Lynne Carpenter Boggs, who considered the technique involved in composting livestock and attempted to adapt it for human subjects.

Pilot studies were conducted with six volunteers who gave their consent to the research prior to their deaths. Boggs, who was also tasked with ensuring the remains were environmentally safe, found the recomposing bodies reached temperatures of 55°C (131°F) for a period of time.

She commented:

We are certain that there has been a destruction of the vast majority of [disease-causing organisms] and pharmaceuticals because of the high temperatures that we reached.

Once Recompose is in business, anyone will be able to participate, though the process is only legal in Washington state. However, Spade believes it is only a matter of time before it is made widely available as the company has had ‘lots of excitement from the UK and other parts of the world’.

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This post was written by Nadia Vella