Life after death

An American startup is returning the burial process to the earth.

A new funeral home in Seattle, USA, built by the renowned architectural firm Olson Kundig, recently opened its doors to the public as one of the first spaces dedicated to the practice of human composting. An environmentally friendly alternative to traditional, resource-intensive burial or cremation processes, human composting offers families the choice to honour their loved ones in a way that gives back to the earth.

Recompose was started by death-care advocate Katrina Spade in 2017 as the first company in America to offer this ‘natural organic reduction’ as a service. The new approach involves an accelerated form of decomposition, breaking down a body into nutrient-rich soil.

The bodies of the deceased are placed in individual cylindrical stainless-steel vessels that contain an array of plant materials to help the decomposition process, including wood chips, straw and alfalfa. The ratios of the plants to be included are decided based on the individual body and weight of the deceased. Over the next 30 days, aided by fresh air and moisture that are pumped into the vessel, and regular rotation to speed up the process, the natural microbes in both the plants and the body break down the remains. Unpleasant odours are filtered out.

Once the body has decomposed, the remaining bone fragments are ground down into a fine ash, and the compost is placed in a curing bin to dry out for a few weeks. At the end of the process, which takes eight to twelve weeks, loved ones can use the nutrient-rich compost to grow new plant life.

Recompose’s flagship facility in Seattle accommodates 31 of the composting vessels, as well as more traditional funeral spaces that offer loved ones a chance to participate in ‘laying-in’ burial ceremonies to honour their dead before the transformation process begins.

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Photographs: Recompose, Austin Wilson.

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