There is a crisis occurring where you might least expect it. Funerary practices are crippling the amount of available real estate and the planet’s resources at an alarming rate. Both burial and cremation, the two most popular methods of funerary ceremonies, create significant amounts of toxic waste, pollution, and contamination. The process of burial is incredibly taxing on the planet. In U.S. cemeteries alone, we bury enough metal to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge. Even worse, we generate enough highly toxic embalming fluid to fill 8 Olympic sized swimming pools.
Many think of cremation as a greener, more eco-friendly alternative to burial. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Not only does cremation emit 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air each year, but it also obliterates any potential we have to give back to the planet after death.
There is a rising revolution in death care, though. It is kinder to our loved ones when they pass, and it is a natural, positive process for the environment. It’s called recomposition, and it’s led by a company called Recompose.
The Recomposition Process
The process is modeled after a practice used widely among farmers called livestock mortality composting. It’s not new science – it’s decades old – and very much dependent on processes that are as old as time. Mortality composting just capitalizes on what nature does by itself. In essence, it takes place by putting an animal high in nitrogen in co-composting materials that are high in carbon. With proper levels of oxygen and moisture (which occurs via rain and wind in nature), microbes and bacteria can decompose a large animal in months.
Recomposition adapts this livestock mortality composting process to meet human needs. It is just as profoundly symbiotic with the environment, and it allows us to give back to the planet that met our bodily needs all our lives.
Many of us practice a version of livestock mortality composting and recomposition every day by composting organic waste materials in our homes to create soil for our gardens. This death care plan is a more advanced, larger-scaled version of popular composting practices.
Through the process of recomposition, human beings can gently, naturally, be returned to the earth as nutrient-rich soil that will nurture trees and plant life for decades to come. Not only that, but the process generates a significant amount of heat. There is long-term potential for that heat to be harnessed into eco-friendly, sustainable power. Recomposition is one of the greenest, most eco-friendly death care options available; it has the potential to save the planet from further destruction and improve the quality of life for the living.
A Caring, Healing, and Enriching Experience for Loved Ones
Recompose’s proposed model factors in the essential components of grief, honor, and ritual. Their recomposition centers are grounded in the idea of bringing back the art of ritual to contemporary culture. There will be a supportive and knowledgeable staff available to nurse families through an honest, natural, and simple death process. Families and friends of those who have passed will be able to take an active role in burial, should they choose to do so. They will be able to wrap the bodies of their loved ones in a simple shroud and carry the body to the recomposition site.
Unlike traditional burial and cremation methods, there are no strangers who embalm a body to make it look alive. There are no toxic chemicals, no unnecessary waste, and no concrete boxes or tombstones that will clutter up cemeteries for centuries. It allows for death to be an intimate and personal process for the family and friends in mourning; it will enable death to transform into a celebration of life that will, in turn, bring new life. Families and friends can then visit the tree that is thriving because of the nutrients given to it by the soil of their passed loved one.
Additionally, Recompose’s facilities will have memorial spaces that help families grieve their loved ones. Herein lies yet another potential for increased sustainability; these recomposition and memorial spaces can be created in abandoned architecture that is no longer used. Recomposition will repurpose crumbling buildings and design an environment that will soothe those who need it most.
Recompose’s first functional human composting facility will be located in Seattle and is set to open in 2023. As this method of grief and green burial evolves, we will all have an opportunity to be a part of nature’s endless cycle of materials. The planet’s ability to regenerate and regrow is complex and beyond human imagination. Through regeneration, death will contribute to earth’s well being, and make it a more beautiful place for our descendants.