For those who have dedicated their lives to heal and protect the planet, how do you honor that sacrifice after death? This is a question that has been on the minds of environmental activists for decades. Both cremations and traditional burials cause environmental damage that is not easy to reconcile. However, that is all changing with Recompose, a Seattle company that has recently opened the nation's first human composting funeral home, according to the Seattle Times.
Recompose offers an innovative funeral service that turns human remains into healthy soil. This service gives Washington state and surrounding residents a chance to make a positive environmental change through their death as well as their life.
In 2019, Governor Jay Inslee passed a bill legalizing composting as a form of human burial. This radical legislation — the first of its kind in the nation — was first inspired by Recompose's founder Katrina Spade and her idea for composting as an eco-conscious burial process. Spade and her neighbor Senator Jamie Pedersen pushed for the bill ardently, and in 2019 were finally successful.
Nearly a decade of research and development went into the founding of Recompose. Their website explains, recomposition "uses the process of 'natural organic reduction' to gently convert human remains into soil." Those kept at the Recompose funeral home are given an optional service and are then placed in mausoleum-like chambers where the composting process begins.
Katrina Spade, like many environmental activists, was frustrated with the limited options for environmentally friendly burial services. Due to the embalming process that most funeral homes use, burial sites are a major source of groundwater pollution. One of the most common embalming chemicals, formaldehyde, is classified as a carcinogen. Prior to the 2019 bill, the only legal and eco-friendly burial options were natural burial sites. There are only 160 of these sites in the entire country, so for those who don't have access to one of those, eco-friendly options are non-existent.
Now, those in the Pacific Northwest have an option that saves an entire metric ton of CO2 in their burial process. While body pickup is only available in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, the facility is accepting clients throughout the Northwest.
The entire service, including ceremony, obituary, death certificate, and transformation, is $5,500. After the composting process is complete, family members can choose to keep the soil or donate it to the Bells Mountain conservation forest. This forest restoration project welcomes family members to visit and see the real impact their loved one has made on the local environment.
Charlotte Bontrager, who was one of the first to take a deceased family member to Recompose, said about the process, "My mom was a very humble, loving person and would not want any kind of spotlight. But she'd be thrilled to know she was among this first group of pioneers."
Because of Katrina Spade and the Washington legislature's hard work, many more will have the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the Earth in their passing. To learn more about the program and services, you can visit their website.
No longer will the options when we die be a choice between just burial or cremation. Soon it will be possible to compost your remains and leave your loved ones with rich soil, thanks to a new funeral service opening in Seattle in 2021 that will convert humans into soil in just 30 days, as The Independent reported.
Recompose markets itself as a service offering "natural organic reduction" to the public, according to its website. The facility is meant to recognize that death is a momentous spiritual event and to take the opportunity to reconnect funeral rites with nature and to offer a greener alternative to burial or cremation, according to Fast Company.
Recompose, which will be able to hold 75 bodies in its flagship facility in Seattle, says it will turn a dead body into usable soil in just 30 days in a process that is much less resource-intensive than cremation or burial. In fact, according to the The Independent, the process will use one-eighth the energy of cremation and save a metric ton of CO2 from being emitted, compared to most forms of burial.
A burial usually requires chemical-laden embalming, while cremation is energy intensive, according to the architects at Olson Kundig who designed the new facility, as Fast Company reported.
"Our service - recomposition - gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die," Recompose's website says. "Recompose takes guidance from nature. At the heart of our model is a system that will gently return us to the earth after we die."
"By converting human remains into soil, we minimize waste, avoid polluting groundwater with embalming fluid, and prevent the emissions of CO2 from cremation and from the manufacturing of caskets, headstones, and grave liners," the company's website explains. "By allowing organic processes to transform our bodies and those of our loved ones into a useful soil amendment, we help to strengthen our relationship to the natural cycles while enriching the earth."
The project has been in the works since 2016 when Recompose founder and CEO Katrina Spade and her team collaborated with architects to create a prototype facility, according to Fast Company.
However, the project only got off the ground after Washington became the first state to explicitly allow natural organic reduction for human remains, or human composting. The law, which will go into effect in May 2020, allows funeral homes to accelerate the process of turning human remains into soil, which allows for environmentally friendly burials in urban and suburban areas that do not have wide-open tracts of land available for burial, according to The Independent.
Recompose uses stacked hexagonal vessels, resembling a honeycomb, to store dead bodies. The bodies sealed in the hexagonal tubes are covered in woodchips, alfalfa and hay. There the temperature is regulated, the dirt is aerated, and conditions are optimized for bacteria to breakdown organic matter over the course of several weeks, as The Independent reported.
"We asked ourselves how we could use nature – which has perfected the life/death cycle – as a model for human death care," said Katrina Spade, as The Independent reported. "We saw an opportunity for this profound moment to both give back to the earth and reconnect us with these natural cycles."
A single body plus the woodchips, alfalfa and hay will net one cubic yard of soil, or several wheelbarrows full. Some families will take the soil home to use, while others can donate it to conservation projects on the slopes of Bells Mountain in Washington, according to the Seattle Times.
"These days, some families regard even ashes from cremation as a burden, not a joy," Spade said to the Seattle Times.. "As in, 'we've had these ashes in the garage for six years.' And we're creating a cubic yard of soil."
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- Washington Becomes First State to Legalize Human Body Composting ›
- First Human-Composting Funeral Home in the US Is Open for Business - EcoWatch ›
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Washington became the first U.S. state to legalize human composting Tuesday, offering residents a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of their remains, AFP reported.
The bill, signed by Governor and climate-focused presidential candidate Jay Inslee, would allow people who die in Washington after May 2020 to forgo burial or cremation and have their bodies turned into soil through a process called recomposition.
"Recomposition offers an alternative to embalming and burial or cremation that is natural, safe, sustainable, and will result in significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage," Katrina Spade, who worked to develop the process and lobbied for the bill, told AFP.
Spade developed the idea through a nonprofit called the Urban Death Project and has now started a small business, Recompose. She hopes to open the country's first "organic reduction" funeral home, The Seattle Times reported.
"I feel so happy," Spade told The Seattle Times. "I can't believe we've come all this way, but here we are."
Spade and her colleagues place a body in a steel container filled with alfalfa, wood chips and straw and let it sit for around 30 days, BBC News explained. At the end of that period, the body decomposes into two wheelbarrows of soil that can be used to plant flowers or trees.
How to compost a human body: @AFPgraphics takes a look at the process Washington on Tuesday became the first US st… https://t.co/G15xHGn608— AFP news agency (@AFP news agency)1558511557.0
Washington State University soil scientist Lynne Carpenter-Boggs helped run a test of the process in 2018 with the remains of six terminally ill volunteers who supported the project. She found that the soil met all federal and state safety standards for pollutants like metals, The Seattle Times reported.
People's Memorial Association Executive Director Nora Menkin, who attended the signing with around 20 supporters of the bill, said that Inslee seemed excited about the new law.
"Inslee congratulated Katrina pretty effusively," Menkin told The Seattle Times.
Traditional burials have a number of ecological drawbacks, as The Smithsonian explained:
Each after-death action comes with its own set of environmental impacts, from embalming chemicals that leach into groundwater to transportation emissions. Many cremation facilities lack modern filtration systems and spew carbon dioxide and mercury into the atmosphere. Cemeteries themselves carry an environmental cost: Many depend on fertilizers and large amounts of water to maintain that clipped, mowed look.
Washington already has "green" cemeteries where people can be buried without embalming, coffins or headstones. Spade's process is more like a green alternative to cremation, The Seattle Times said.
"I think this is great," Funeral Consumers Alliance Director Joshua Slocum told The Seattle Times. "In this country, we have a massively dysfunctional relationship with death, which does not make good principles for public policy. Disposition of the dead, despite our huge emotional associations with it, is not — except in very rare cases — a matter of public health and public safety. It's a real tough thing for people to get their minds around, and a lot of our state laws stand in the way of people returning to simple, natural, uncomplicated, inexpensive ways of doing things."
Menkin said she knew of people in Massachusetts and Michigan who now wanted to bring similar bills to their states.