Estate planning, for the most part, is about what happens when you die. Who do you want to get your stuff? How and when do you want your estate distributed? Who will be in charge of carrying out your wishes?
Estate plans can even contain instructions for your funeral and how you want your body handled after you’ve crossed to the great beyond. Some people want full body burial, others prefer cremation, still others want to donate their body to science. But now, 5 states have legalized another option—human composting, also known as natural organic reduction.
The composting most of us are familiar with happens when organic material is placed directly into the ground and allowed to biodegrade. Human composting is an above-ground process that turns human remains into soil in six to eight weeks.
According to a report from the Pew Charitable Trust, “The process involves placing human remains in a steel box with biodegradable materials, which help the body naturally decompose. That produces soil, which is given to family members, who may spread it or use it to grow plants.”
The Sierra Club is a bit more specific. It says the composter “surrounds the deceased with alfalfa, wood chips, and straw in stainless steel capsules and periodically rotates them at temperatures between 130°F and 160°F. The result, after 30 days (plus a few more weeks of curing), is “a cubic yard of soil amendment.”
To some, the idea of human composting is gross, weird, outlandish, and down-right nasty. But there is at least some curiosity about it. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has released its 2022 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Report which polled Americans about human composting. 60.5% said they’d be interested in exploring green funeral options because of potential environmental benefits or cost savings.
So, how much does it cost for a human composting funeral? About the same as a full body burial.
- Recompose, a green funeral home in Seattle, Washington that offers human composting services, says the cost is $7,000 (not including a ceremony).
- According to the NFDA, the median cost of a full body burial in 2021 was $7,848.
- NFDA also says the 2021 median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation was $6,970.
The 5 states that have legalized human composting are:
California became the fifth state to approve human composting. The law takes effect in 2027.
Vermont’s governor signed the human composting bill into law in June 2022. It took effect January 1, 2023.
The bill also included another green burial alternative—alkaline hydrolysis. The Sierra Club describes the process:
The body is placed in a stainless steel container filled with 95 percent water and 5 percent alkali (i.e., lye) that is then pressurized and heated to 300°F. After three hours, all that’s left are a brittle skeleton that can be crushed into powder and a liquid safe enough to be discharged into a municipal waste system. It costs $1,500 to $4,000, but boosters note that it results in 20 to 30 percent “more ash remains returned to the family.”
The human composting bill became law in Colorado in 2021. The first human composted remains were spread on a field in March 2022.
Oregon’s human composting law took effect in 2022.
Washington state was the first state to legalize human composting in 2020. According to the Smithsonian, “Entrepreneur Katrina Spade struck on the idea of human composting after learning that farmers use a similar process for disposing of animal remains.”
What will we do with you when you die? Now, there’s one more option.