Ashes to Ashes, or Ashes to Soil? Is Human Composting Real?

Sep 19, 2023

Ashes to Ashes, or Ashes to Soil? Is Human Composting Real?

Outlining your wishes for burial and funeral arrangements can be something you include in your estate plan. And though it may sound jarring, human composting is in fact a death care alternative that is increasing in popularity. As more people look to adopt environmentally sustainable practices not only in life, but now also in death, this “green” alternative may become more of a norm in the future.

What Is Human Composting?

Human composting is the colloquial term for natural organic reduction. This process turns human remains into soil. That soil is returned to the earth and used to enrich soil health. This process reduces carbon emissions caused by traditional burial and cremation methods.

How Does It Work?

Family members whose loved ones have chosen to have their bodies disposed of this way can expect a process that contains the following steps:

  • The deceased’s body is put into a steel container along with alfalfa, wood chips, and straw.
  • Through the application of heat and oxygen, the decomposition of the remains is sped up, leaving nutrient-rich soil.
  • Throughout the process of decomposition, the contents of the steel container are blended to ensure that bone fragments are crushed and become a part of the soil.
  • Any medical devices or inorganic materials (e.g., breast implants, pacemakers, etc.) are removed from the final soil product.
  • The family may choose to have their loved one’s remains returned to them, or they may donate the soil to a conservation organization.

Human Composting Law: In What States Is This Practice Legal?

Natural organic reduction remains a niche in the death care profession. Very few states have made the process legal. The following six states have made human composting legal since 2019:

  • Washington
  • Colorado
  • Vermont
  • New York
  • California
  • Oregon

Natural Organic Reduction: Pros, Cons, and Costs

Natural organic reduction is growing in popularity. Most people who are in favor of the practice cite the positive impact the process can have on slowing climate change.

A typical cremation burns a large amount of fossil fuel, which experts believe can contribute to raising the global temperature. When untreated ashes enter the environment, they may disrupt the balance of soil and plant health.

Also arguing that traditional burial of caskets pollutes the soil and consumes valuable land, proponents of human composting may pursue the practice as a way to reduce the negative effects of both traditional burial and cremation.

Cost Comparisons

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the cost of traditional final arrangements has risen over the past several years. In 2021, the nationwide median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation services was $6,970, and the median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,848.

Nationwide data does not yet exist for the median costs of natural organic reduction. Several companies offer the service in states where natural organic reduction is legal. Those companies charge the following:

Earth Funeral

Earth Funeral has facilities in Oregon and Washington. The company offers customized services. Earth Funeral asks potential customers to complete a questionnaire to get an instant price. However, the average price for their work is $4,950.

Herland Forest

Herland Forest offers human composting services in Washington State. Herland Forest may be the most affordable option. A person interested in natural organic reduction can have the service completed for $3,000.

Return Home

Return Home operates in Washington, California, and Colorado. The company completes this service for approximately $4,950.

Recompose

Recompose might be the most well-known company that provides the service. The company is in Washington state and planning to open a facility in Colorado. Recompose charges approximately $7,000 for human composting services.

People against natural organic reduction hold fast to the societal, cultural, and religious meanings of a funeral. Proponents, meanwhile, consider the idea of returning their bodies to the soil for pragmatic reasons. Many believe it to be a more environmentally friendly, sustainable option for death care that can have a positive impact on climate change.

Whatever your burial or funeral wishes, connect with your estate planning attorney today to understand what options are available.

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