More choice, but not in Australia

When it comes to dying and death within the world of animals, it’s a matter of carcass decomposition at the spot where body finally keels over – to be blunt about it -and nature begins to reintegrate it back into the soil, or water, in the case of marine life.

It’s only the human species has interrupted this natural cycle by boxing up bodies and burying them in holes we call graves. The introduction of cremation added one other choice, but that’s been about it for a long while.

The ecological costs of this intervention are considerable to put it mildly. In fact the Earthly costs are huge, which has led to innovation to the point where there are now a few other options, mainly in the US, but one day perhaps also Australia. This post outlines a couple of approaches currently on offer, both of them use composting of the body. The names are more about proprietary difference, but the principles are the same. Both use the descriptive term Natural Reduction. One is called Chrysalis, the other Terramation.

Chrysalis

Body Composting (Natural Reduction) is our newest ecological offering to families who care about leaving the earth with a gentle, loving touch. This simple method of Body Composting transforms human remains into soil. Our process occurs in a vessel that is safely sheltered in an environmentally-controlled facility.

PICTURE: Seth Viddal, who co-owns The Natural Funeral, stands behind a nearly completed human body composting vessel in Arvada, Colo. On Sept. 7, Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow human body composting, and Oregon will allow the practice beginning next July. The vessel will be packed with wood chips and straw and will be able to compost a body in six months. About the size of a standard grave, the rectangular insulated wooden box is lined with waterproof roofing material and packed with wood chips and straw. Two large spool wheels on either end allow it to be rolled across the floor, providing the oxygenation, agitation and absorption required for a body to compost. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert) August 11, 2021

Over the course of a few months, natural microbial activity converts the body into a rich, organic, life-giving soil. The temperature in the vessel naturally rises during the Body Composting process. This sterilizes and stabilizes the contents as the conversion takes place.

Once the reduction process is complete, about a cubic yard of soil remains. We can return this to families or donate it to farms.

The Natural Funeral actively supported the introduction of legislation to legalize Body Composting, which became legal in 2021. We are the first Colorado funeral provider to offer this service through our own Body Composting (Natural Reduction) system, in the Chrysalis.

Terramation

Composting is the natural process of decomposition. It turns organic materials into a natural, nutrient-rich matter than can be returned to the earth. You may have heard of composting food scraps such as vegetables, eggshells, and coffee grounds to keep waste out of the landfill. And maybe you even have your own kitchen compost bin. But have you heard of human composting?

Many of us don’t usually think about what happens after we die. But in this week’s episode of Good Together, Laura Wittig speaks with Katey Houston, Service Manager at Return Home, and Brie Smith, Services Director at Return Home, to understand the environmental impact of dying—and how we can mitigate the impact.

Return Home is the world’s first large-scale green funeral business that specialises in human composting. And Houston and Smith, both licensed funeral directors and embalmers, say human composting could make the “deathcare” industry more environmentally friendly than traditional methods, including cremation.

“We know that cremation uses about 30 gallons of fuel, which is enough to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back,” Katey Houston, Service Manager at Return Home says. “And it puts everything that was good in your body up into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.”

PICTURE: The Terramation process is a commercial body composting product available in some USA states.

The traditional burial method is also harmful to the environment because it uses a lot of natural resources and chemicals. Specifically, the embalming process—or the process of preserving human remains using chemicals—can release toxins into the soil. Embalming prevents natural decomposition, and while Smith says some embalming may be necessary, there’s still a time and a place for it.

“We know about traditional burial that each year, about 20 million feet of wood, and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete are all put into the earth as we separate people between layers and layers of these materials,” Smith adds. “And they never really decompose and give any organic matter back to the earth.”

However, human composting may be the solution to decreasing our carbon footprints after death, offering a sustainable and ethical alternative to burial and cremation.

We gently transform human remains into life-giving soil using a process we call Terramation, also known as human composting. This allows families to travel the journey of grief at their heart’s pace, and empowers them to make meaningful end-of-life decisions that give back to our planet. Your loved one is wonderfully unique, and it’s our privilege to care for them.

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