Life and death are part of the circle of life, but in modern times we have taken on environmentally unfriendly burial practices that interfere with nature’s cycle.
For instance, embalming a body before it gets buried takes about three gallons of embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol; all of these chemicals then end up in the ground along with the body, which in the US alone adds up to around 5.3 million gallons per year.
Cremation, often perceived as a more eco-friendly option, requires a lot of energy. The energy that is needed to burn through two tanks of gas is the same amount of energy needed for one single cremation. Plus, the burning process itself produces more than 500 pounds of carbon dioxide, which adds up to roughly 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in the US.
Now that we see the consequences of our actions, humanity is scrambling to right our wrongs. One step forward is to start composting human corpses, something that is now legal in three states in the US.
We wrote about when Washington legalized human composting back in 2019, making it the first state in the US to do so, and we also covered when Colorado followed suit last month. Now Oregon is hopping on the human composting bandwagon. Just this past week, Governor Kate Brown signed HB 2574, which legalizes natural organic reduction (aka human composting).
How it works
At Recompose, the first composting funeral home in the US, the body is put in a special container and enveloped in wood chips and plant material. Then, the body is left alone for 30 days to let nature do its work. After this period, the resulting remains are “cured” in separate containers in a storing area for a few more weeks. The final result is one cubic yard of human soil, which is then returned to the deceased loved ones to do with what they see fit, or is used like regular compost.
The public’s response seems to be quite positive, with people getting excited about the prospect of being able to take human soil home and use it to plant beautiful trees and flowers in the yard to remember their loved ones. For those of us who are still living, the thought that one day our bodies could help make the environment healthier is also a great thing.
Recompose reports that it’s planning to open more locations in the state once human composting is legal, which is set for next year. In mid-January, eight of Recompose’s ten composting vessels were already full, and there were 350 (not yet deceased) people on the waitlist.
Another way you can make burials greener is by opting to lay bodies to rest without the embalming chemicals and only wrapped in burial shrouds.
Source image: Recompose