The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


Human Composting: A Green Way to Return to the Earth

A natural burial is good for the planet and lets you be reborn as a part of nature
Human composting turns death into an opportunity to help the planet heal.

When someone dies, they can be put in the ground or an urn — but many are unaware that there is an alternative that returns the body to the earth in a natural way. Instead of traditional burial or cremation, there is human composting, which honors the natural cycle of life and creates a memorial specific to our loved ones without harming the earth. 

Human composting is a simple process that lays the body on a bed of wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The body decomposes and turns into fresh usable soil in five to seven weeks. According to the human composting facility, Recompose, one human turns into about one truck bed of soil which can be used for a garden, tree or even spread among a forest. 

Why is human composting better than traditional embalming or cremation practices? It is important to consider the average postmortem process. One day a man named Body dies. Body hangs out with the mortician who pumps him full of embalming fluids, drains his blood, removes his organs and creates a chemically preserved thing that is not natural, not human and definitely not Body. 

When I think about modern death practices I wonder, why do we ignore death when we can embrace it?

The work involved in the embalming process is not natural for a human to experience and it exposes the mortician to harmful chemicals. The National Funeral Directors Association claims that embalmers inhale high levels of formaldehyde and are at risk for coughing, nausea, facial irritation and, in some cases, leukemia. 

After the preparation, Body’s family picks out a casket, plans a ceremony, buys enough flowers to start a flower shop and buys a plot of land. So, is it worth it? Is it worth it to expose morticians to harmful chemicals and waste resources for a process that attempts to slow decomposition and maintain a body that is no longer alive? 

Modern funeral practices involve cement vaults and caskets in order to preserve our loved ones for as long as possible. We delay the decomposition process for about a decade so that our bodies resemble canned goods in the bottom of a cement bunker. We waste time, thousands of dollars and land all because we want to look at our loved ones and imagine they’re still alive. When I think about modern death practices I wonder, why do we ignore death when we can embrace it? 

Human composting is the opposite of traditional burial. With human composting, our bodies replenish the earth, not take from it. The process allows us to be among the trees or a meadow where we will forever contribute to the circle of life. 

The possibilities of soil are endless. When I die, I want to become a carrot patch. With human composting, you could be a lemon tree or a tulip garden, and your family could make a garden and sit under the shade of your tree. 

You are not a preserved lump at the bottom of a cement vault or a pile of ashes on the mantel. Rather, you would nourish the roots of your favorite plant and your family would be with you, laying under the sun. 

Each individual is capable of changing the way we see death. After all, America’s extravagant funeral practices and embalming methods are relatively modern. The Library of Congress associates America’s booming death care industry with the Civil War because families wanted their loved ones preserved and returned from war. Embalming remained popular after the success of President Abraham Lincoln’s embalmed body during his lavish funeral tour. If luxurious funerals and embalming were influenced by societal changes, I believe human composting can reach the same degree of acceptance someday.

Moreover, human composting is crucial to the future of our planet. In 2019, the Population Reference Bureau notes that roughly 3 million Americans died. Typically, more than half of the population chooses cremation and the rest choose traditional burial meaning millions of people harm the earth for funerals on an annual basis. 

If luxurious funerals and embalming were influenced by societal changes, I believe human composting can reach the same degree of acceptance someday.

Recompose claimed on their website that: “Cremation burns fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide … Conventional burial consumes valuable urban land, pollutes the soil, and contributes to climate change through resource-intensive manufacture and transport of caskets, headstones, and grave liners.” 

Earth Funeral, a human composting company in New York, shared similar data claiming one cremation produces about 535 pounds of CO2. While cremation saves land resources, it usually involves burning embalmed bodies which releases toxic chemicals into the air. 

Unfortunately, human composting is only legal in seven states including Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, Nevada and New York. Even then, there are only a handful of human composting facilities in the country. Earth Funeral is accessible for people in New York, but if someone from Texas wanted to be composted they would have to transport the body all the way to a different state with a facility. 

The U.S. needs to legalize human composting in all 50 states because everyone should have the option to decay. I find it ridiculous that America’s legal burial options harm the earth but natural decomposition is illegal in 43 states. We’re allowed to be preserved and burned but not returned to the earth. We’re allowed to kill the planet but not help it.

Everyone can help promote human composting. It’s easy to spread awareness by sharing websites such as Recompose or Earth Funeral with your friends and family. Additionally, you can follow Recompose’s legislative tracker, a resource that updates visitors on which states are in the process of legalizing human composting. 

By destigmatizing environmentally friendly burial options, we can move away from harmful burial choices and make decomposition a common burial practice. Normalizing human composting starts with the small steps of educating our peers until the knowledge reaches the legislature. Instead of scarring the earth, we can return to it.

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HONORAH BROZIO, Contributing Writer

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