Among rows and rows of small workshops and warehouses in Kent, an innovative new facility is tucked away. It does not stand out from the outside. But inside is where the magic happens. It is the United States’ first funeral home that offers a unique human composting service.
The home’s name is Recompose. It took about ten years of fundraising, research, and planning to get it functional. What is this service, though? The answer is simple. You turn people into eco-friendly soil. Remember, “from dust thou art, to dust returnest”? Well, human composting is the actual scientific version of that.
Recompose: A Long Road To Today’s Human Composting Dream
Recompose’ entrance is not any different than the other buildings in the neighborhood – normal sliding doors made of metal and large warehouse doors that can be rolled up. Inside, however, it is similar to how an environmentalist would imagine a sci-fi spaceship. You get a sense of calmness from the minimalist and utilitarian layout. Occasionally, you can see some tools for working the soil and some neat straw bags. Finally, the décor is complete with various-sized potted plants and walls covered with green fern.
The area has one huge object as the centerpiece. It looks like a part of a humongous white honeycomb. Each hexagon is a Recompose “vessel” that houses a soil-filled steel cylinder. There are 10 of these. Inside, human bodies undergo natural organic reduction (NOR) – the scientific term for human composting.
The first remains were placed on 20th December 2020. The moment was a landmark for Katrina Spade, the CEO, and founder of Recompose. She had started looking at funerary methods while she was in a small crisis regarding her own mortality. Back then she was a student of architecture at Amherst’s University of Massachusetts. She also had two young kids and a partner.
In her research, Spade saw that the options were limited. There was the traditional burial which is expensive and toxic. The second option was cremation which uses too much carbon. There was also the green burial in rural areas. Apart from being too rare, city-dwellers have to face too much of a hassle for this one.
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So she started considering composting. To her, it is a type of cremation based on soil. Then in 2013, she completed a thesis for her Master’s degree on the same concept. More milestones happened thereafter. Two studies in 2015 and 2018 began a push to change the state’s law regarding the legalization of NOR. Recompose also raised a capital of $6.75M.
The Process Of NOR
In 2020, 2 more competitors of NOR appeared. The first one is called Herland Forest in Klickitat County. The cemetery has one vessel named its “cradle”. The other one is Return Home in Auburn. The facility has 72 vessels – the largest one so far.
The total bill for Recompose is $5500. This includes picking up the body, all the paperwork, the human composting as well as a funeral service you can opt for.
The process is a month-long one or about 30 days. First, the body is placed in a vessel filled with straw and wood chips. Then, for some more weeks, it is moved to a “curing bin” – a large box where the soil can rest and continue releasing carbon dioxide. After the process is complete, family members and/or friends can take back the soil. Or, they can donate the soil to a project for restoring the ecology at Washington’s Bell Mountain. Most customers have chosen to donate it.
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The facility does not emit anything that is visible or odorous. It is also reviewed every ninety days by an independent reviewer. The soil is regularly tested for pathogens and the temperature is carefully regulated. The fuel is only plant material and oxygen.
With time the cost will reduce gradually, hopes Spade. Even as it stands now, it is lower than the average US funeral costs of $6000. Such facilities are the future, it is what Nature meant for us after all.