In recent years, the conversation around sustainable living has extended to the way we deal with our body after death. Human composting is also known as ‘recomposition’, ‘earthly remains’, ‘terramation’ and ‘natural organic reduction’. It is emerging as a ground-breaking and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional burial and cremation methods. So is this a sustainable approach to the circle of life?
There are many reasons why we should consider the concept of human composting, exploring its process, benefits, and the potential it holds for a more ecologically sustainable option for our final rites.
What is Human Composting?
Human composting is the accelerated decomposition of a deceased person’s body into nutrient-rich soil through natural processes. Traditional body disposition methods can have a significant environmental impact. Burials usually require coffins, extensive land use and often chemicals. Cremation emits greenhouse gases. Human composting seeks to return the body to the earth in a way that nourishes the soil with minimal use of energy.
How does it work?
Step 1 – Preparation
The body is placed inside a vessel along with organic materials such as wood chips, straw, and other plant-based matter. This is done in a facility designed for the purpose.
Step 2 – Aeration, Moisture and Temperature Control
The mixture is regularly aerated to facilitate decomposition and maintain optimal moisture levels. Microorganisms, naturally present in the environment, break down the organic matter, including the body. The system is carefully monitored to ensure that temperatures remain within the optimal range for decomposition. This process is similar to the natural decomposition of organic matter in composting.
Step 3 – Transformation into Soil
Over the course of several weeks, the body transforms into nutrient-rich soil. As with cremation, the remaining bone fragments are processed into a fine powder, completing the conversion.
Step 4 – Using the Soil
The soil can be used in a range of beneficial ways. Families can use the soil to plant trees or a garden to memorialise their person who has died. Or, it can be used in public spaces to regenerate damaged areas or simply maintain existing parklands.
What are the benefits?
Human composting significantly reduces the ecological impact associated with traditional burial and cremation. It avoids the use of embalming chemicals, minimizes land usage, and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting soil is rich in essential nutrients, capable of wide-spread use such as land regeneration, community parkland and agriculture. This nutrient-dense compost can contribute to soil health and also reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.
As urbanization continues to encroach on available land, human composting provides a solution to the growing challenge of finding suitable burial spaces. This method requires less land.
Human composting also provides great opportunities for rituals and participation by families to help them in their bereavement. Families can prepare their person who has died and arrange them, ready for the transformation process. They can see the final result and choose the best use for the nutrient-rich soil.
Challenges and Legal Considerations:
While human composting presents a promising eco-friendly alternative, it is important to address regulatory and legal considerations. Laws regarding human composting vary across jurisdictions, as does policy makers’ interest in something often considered ‘icky’. Australia does not currently have human composting as an option, although it is legal in seven states of America and throughout Sweden.
Advocacy for the acceptance and legalisation of human composting is crucial to promote its adoption globally.
- Human composting represents a paradigm shift in our approach to the choices available at the end of life.
- Human composting provides an innovative and respectful option to return to the earth, contributing to the cycle of life in a manner that aligns with a commitment to a greener, more sustainable future.
- Community support and advocacy is required for policy change.
There is a campaign to bring human composting to the ACT by local organisation, Earthly Remains Canberra. They have received funding from the Norman Foundation to conduct a proof of concept trial and are currently looking for an appropriate space to conduct the trial. If you would like to know more, or think you could support them with space or advocacy support they can be contacted at: [email protected].
(Disclosure: A board member for Tender Funerals Canberra Region is one of the founders of Earthly Remains Canberra. Tender Funerals Canberra Region has no financial interest in Earthly Remains Canberra, but we support the development of more environmentally-friendly options for body disposal and wish Earthly Remains Canberra all the best with their trial. If there are innovations you would like us to explore in an article, please contact us at [email protected])