How body farms and human composting can help communities


Spade began her investigations as a master’s student in architecture with her thesis, “A place for the urban dead”. Seeking to replicate the cattle composting process for humans, she invested a decade of research and fundraising in the Urban Death Project, followed by the opening of Recompose in 2020. Her intention was not just to develop a system sustainable, but also to involve the members of the community in the transformation of the body of their loved one in the earth.

Legislation for human composting has been introduced in Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts and New York. A similar bill in California received bipartisan support but was dropped in August 2021. In some states, such as New York, the Catholic Church has opposed natural biological reduction, calling the process “more appropriate for vegetable ornaments and eggshells only for human bodies ”. But this religious resistance has not stopped the legislation, especially in light of funeral homes swamped with bodies awaiting both cremation and burial during Covid-19.

Another Washington-based company, Return Home, offers human composting at a facility open to the public with a capacity of 74 people.

“It’s about reclaiming our ability to say goodbye to our loved ones,” said CEO Micah Truman. “There is a man who comes and sits down every morning and brings two cups of coffee, one for his wife in the boat and one for him. If they have a choice, people want to get involved and that makes all the difference in the world.

During my visit to the Forest Laboratory at Western Carolina University, Zejdlik pointed out the potential of composting, especially since many people think that burial and cremation are their only choices: “Animals in agriculture are composted. all the time, ”she said. “And if human composting takes off, it could be phenomenal. She noted the environmental benefits in urban areas with a dearth of green space for cemeteries, where land is a resource that must be conserved.

Human composting is not yet available in North Carolina, where I live, but support has grown in various states since its legalization in Washington in 2019. In many municipalities, restrictive codes around composting are the first obstacles to the relatively new process of natural organic reduction. Yet, as soon as human composting became legal in Colorado in September 2021, Natural Funeral built vessels for bodily composting and began offering the service in addition to green burial and aquamation, which uses water and lye for cremation instead of flames.

“We are about to place our fourth person in a Chrysalis ship,” said Karen van Vuuren, co-founder of Natural Funeral in Boulder. She explained that they named the ship after a builder named Chris, who helped build the container that would turn the bodies into dirt.

“The first person placed in the ship was a difficult loss,” said van Vuuren, “He was a youngster. But the family were able to place handwritten notes on the body and lift it into the ship back to earth. “

In a world where 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions, individual climate action can seem daunting or ineffective. My end-of-life decisions – working with my daughters – won’t transform the climate crisis, but I do believe in the momentum created by individuals in the community, especially when our last best act could connect life, death and earth. Planning for our deaths can involve our family, friends and communities while feeding the earth, rather than fueling our climate emergency.

About Cassondra Durden

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