There are several alternatives to traditional cremation, such as aquamation aka water cremation, though these alternatives are only legal in some states. What is natural composition is a question our arrangers get asked. Natural composition is also called human composting, and is currently legal in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
What is natural composition?
The natural composition or human composting process transforms a human body into soil. The process entails:
- Placing a body into a steel vessel with wood chips and hay or other fodder
- Microbes from the fodder on and within the body transforms it into soil
- In about a month, everything inside the vessel naturally decomposes
- The soil is taken from the vessel and checked for non-organic items
- The soil gets tested for safety
- The soil dries and cures in a bin for two to four weeks
- Once the process completes, families can take the soil for use on trees and plants
- A body results in about one cubic yard of soil
Recompose, of Washington, is the primary company focusing on natural composition, and their website details the five stages of the human composting process:
- One: Natural organic reduction is powered by beneficial microbes that occur naturally on our bodies and in the environment.
- Two: Recompose staff members lay the body in a cradle surrounded by wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The cradle is placed into a Recompose vessel and covered with more plant material.
- Three: The body and plant material remain in the vessel for 30 days. Microbes break everything down on the molecular level, resulting in the formation of a nutrient‑dense soil.
- Four: Each body creates one cubic yard of soil amendment, which is removed from the vessel and allowed to cure. Once completed, it can be used to enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens.
- Five: The soil created returns the nutrients from our bodies to the natural world. It restores forests, sequesters carbon, and nourishes new life.
Colorado’s first natural composition took place in March 2022 at Colorado Burial Preserve, a green burial location and an alternative to a traditional cemetery.
“They were laid in as a beloved and they will lay out as a living soil gift back to this preserve,” said Seth Viddal, from The Natural Funeral, a company focused on holistic funerals and cremations. “It will nourish the land that’s here. It will be a foundation for the seeds that we’re mixing into that soil today. It’ll be the foundation of life here forever.”
The Natural Funeral’s natural composition process entails the body being placed in an air-filtered chamber, with the full decomposition progression taking about six months. Colorado law prohibits the soil of multiple people to be combined without permission, and does not allow soil from natural composition being used to grow food for human consumption or to be sold.
The Natural Funeral’s composition process costs about $7,900. The average American family spends about $7,000 for a service and cremation. The average cost for a funeral, viewing and burial is $7,800, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.