Seattle will allow you to rot!


Yay for the Pacific Northwest! The first official human composting service in the US has opened. They stuff your corpse in a cylinder with wood chips and rails that automatically rotate your rotting body to maximize the rate that you decompose.

I am impressed with how quick the process is — two months, and then you get to be put into the garden.

The Recompose process takes 30 days in a vessel full of wood chips and straw, then another few weeks in “curing bins,” large boxes (one per person) where soil is allowed to rest and continue exhaling carbon dioxide. Once that process is complete, friends and chosen family can either retrieve the soil themselves, or donate it to an ecological restoration project at Bells Mountain near Vancouver, Washington. So far, most have elected to donate.

What I also find appealing is that the service is based in Kent, Washington, which is where I grew up. There’s nothing special about the location except that I like the symmetry of being recycled back into the place I began when I end.

Comments

  1. bcw bcw says

    They don’t mention worms, which are really good at aerating the compost. I seem to remember a children’s song on the topic. — Ah yes, the hearse song. Pinochle is involved also.

  2. Artor says

    I’m surprised at the speed they claim. Even the bones are composted that quickly? They’re not broken or ground down? Or does that happen during the sifting process? I would imagine the heavy bones like the femur or pelvis would take much longer to degrade, even in a highly bioactive environment.

  3. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Any bones left over from the composting process should be set up to provide a home for spiders, clearly.

    CIRCLE OF LIFE!

  4. Bruce Fuentes says

    #2
    That is also my preferred way to deal with my dead body. Unfortunately, that is not legal here in Wisconsin and my wife is not ok with that. We have 20 acres, so when I die I am going to be buried about 3ft deep in just a shroud. I worm compost, so a bunch of worms will be thrown in with me. I should decompose fairly quickly and if anything(we have bears, wolves and coyotes) digs me up, even the better. Here in Wisconsin we just have to submit a map to the county showing where the body is buried.
    Maybe they will plant a tree over me.

  5. robro says

    This is different approach, but “Green Burial” has been around in California for a while. It is burial but without the preservatives, concrete crypt, and steel coffin. I think I prefer the later to a composter, but that’s largely perceptual. I won’t care for myself, and I don’t expect resurrection.

  6. erichoug says

    Seems like it would go a lot quicker if they ran me through a wood chipper first. But it’s not my area of expertise.

    I mean, I was just going to be set out on heavy trash day. So, this might work.

  7. PaulBC says

    Couldn’t they do it faster with corpse-eating beetles?

    I sort of like the idea of towers of silence though I’d be worried that modern humans may be too toxic for wildlife. It strikes me as more efficient to get your meat back into the food chain as protein instead of breaking it down further. (I admit I don’t know the actual energy costs.)

    Also, “reuse” is a much better policy than recycle for transplantable solid organ. There are many people waiting for hearts, livers, and kidneys, among other organs. While it’s a matter of individual choice, I would hate to see the worms or even condors get first dibs. Some day they’ll probably be able to grow new organs to order, but that day doesn’t look very close.

  8. Alex the Pretty Good says

    Ooh. I hope that option will be available here by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil.
    I’ve always wanted the most eco-friendly solution. After any usable organs have been removed, my brains have been sent away for Alzheimer’s research ( or whatever othe research that might require brain samples) and medical students have had their chance practicing, just put the remains in a recycled coffin to move around or if that’s not possible, take the cheapest, unvarnished recycled triplex box you can find. Then put the remains in whatever process that’s legally available that will decompose the fastest.
    I’ve always been a little iffy about cremation because it’s a waste of good nutrients, but I’ll take it if it orevents using up valuable ground.
    My idea has always been ” just stuff me in the ground an plant a tree or shrub on me.” Then maybe, a generation later my family can walk through a forest and my kids/grandkids will be able to say “that’s where Alex lies. He was always a little nuts, so that’s why there’s an oak tree growing on him.” ( actually, that joke works better in Dutch. Uit een eikel groeit een eik)
    And this seems like the next best thing.

    As a tangential question, I often hear about bodies in the US being treated for preservation. Is this because of the “open casket” culture? Or is there a actual practical reason to do so?

  9. lumipuna says

    Seems like it would go a lot quicker if they ran me through a wood chipper first.

    IIRC, some other burial service has used deep freezing + ultrasound to break the body into mincemeat before composting. I’d find it odd if that isn’t necessary here.

  10. says

    #13: It’s capitalism. The funeral industry lobbies for all kinds of laws to restrict your options and force you to go through a funeral home.

  11. PaulBC says

    @16 It is ironic, though I am not arguing with this characterization, that “capitalism” is preventing “free enterprise.” A cartel by any other name, I guess.

  12. Bruce Fuentes says

    PZ, I have done a good bit of research into this. In most states there are not actually many laws about the disposal of bodies. The funeral home industry just wants people to think there are a lot of laws. Most states allow private cemeteries and very few require caskets or vaults. For example, her is some info on WI laws. If you would ask a funeral home they would tell you there are lots of requirements.
    https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/wisconsin-home-funeral-laws.html#:~:text=Wisconsin%20does%20not%20require%20you%20to%20involve%20a,director%20in%20making%20or%20carrying%20out%20final%20arrangements.

    http://coeio.com/burial-laws-state/

  13. PaulBC says

    Maybe it would be better to have a wax dummy made for the “viewing”, since the “embalmed” body has been made so toxic that it might as well be considered an artifact at that point. I have a really bad memory from when my father died when I was a teen, made only more traumatic by how different he looked to me after embalming, not the warm, intelligent, funny, sometimes volatile man I remember but just some undertaker’s depiction of respectable middle age.

    A wax dummy isn’t exactly eco-friendly. Some kind of hologram maybe? Our funeral practices aren’t quite as nutty as the ancient Egyptians, but they’re not far off.

  14. PaulBC says

    lumipuna@14 I’ll assume you’re talking about accelerating a process, but needless to say, nature has been very effective at eliminating remains for hundreds of millions of years and without the benefit of deep freezing and ultrasound. If you don’t fall into a tar pit or glacial crevasse for instance, any “low tech” solution ought to work. (And there are those beetles aren’t there? What do you do with them after they’ve removed all the flesh from a skeleton?)

  15. garnetstar says

    Wow, this is a good idea. I saw one once where they bury you in some kind of degradable container with seeds (or something) of a tree, and a new tree grows right up out of your old body. Love it!

    I have to look that one up before it’s needed (one always thinks that there will be time) and put it in my will, or something. With a URL to purchase one and exact instructions on how to do it and where to put the tree (near where I buried my cats, of course!)

  16. answersingenitals says

    Looks like I’m going to have to change my will which currently stipulates that I be cremated while the funeral parlor organist plays ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’.

  17. Anton Mates says

    Artor @4,

    I’m surprised at the speed they claim. Even the bones are composted that quickly? They’re not broken or ground down? Or does that happen during the sifting process?

    There’s a brief mention in their website’s FAQ that the compost is “blended” by staff several times during the curing process. After a month of accelerated decomposition, the bones are probably fragile enough to be broken down by stirring, either by hand or mechanically. (I haven’t been able to find the graphic details of this process online, presumably because they don’t want potential customers imagining Grandma getting blended.)

    PaulBC @20,

    (And there are those beetles aren’t there? What do you do with them after they’ve removed all the flesh from a skeleton?)

    They don’t bite living animals, so you can just reach in, grab the cleaned bones and shake the beetles off. Dermestids do need to eat regularly; museums maintain the colonies on butchers’ scraps when no cadavers are available.

  18. JustaTech says

    I’m delighted that this finally got approved.
    If you’re interested in more reading on the subject I’d recommend “Stiff” by Mary Roach (though it’s a bit old, old enough that Dr Oz is in it as an actual heart surgeon) and “From Here to Eternity” by Caitlin Doughty (who also has a lovely and informative YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician).

  19. Snidely W says

    @4, @23
    Bones of this size will not be significantly altered in 30 days.
    Large rocks added to the tumbler would probably do the trick.
    Just don’t let the relatives get a peek at the action though. It might sound like the dear departed are trying to get out.

    “Blended” eh? Sounds like minimum wage folks with hammers.

  20. dorght says

    I particularly liked the book Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers. It dealt with the composting bodies and reuse of the compost in gardens to grow food in a most respectful yet practical way. A really good series overall.
    I want a hole auger to drill a hole, drop me in, cover me and be done with it.
    If I can’t have that I want to be mounted astride a T-Rex with riding harness wearing a necklace of saber teeth holding a time control remote. Than sink the whole lot in a subsidence zone like the gulf of mexico where I would be covered by silt quickly and a billion to 1 shot a being an unearthed mystery eons from now.

  21. dorght says

    Oops, I forgot the prerequisite condition of being dead before dropped in the auger hole or fossilization fantasy.

  22. answersingenitals says

    Is the best of all possible worlds one in which medical science has reached the pinnacle of knowledge and practice and the only form of death is suicide? Once people feel they have seen it all, done it all, achieved and enjoyed everything they hoped for they travel to the nearest composting station (or victory garden) and happily apply for an ‘ending’. Or will this just leave a population of religious fanatics (i. e., anyone who believes in god) who believe that there is an after life with eternal bliss and happiness, but fight dying with every once of their being?

  23. PaulBC says

    answersingenitals@29 On an individual level, maybe (not sure) but I think at a societal level, both finite lifespans and the presence of random chance are both beneficial. While I would like to see lifespans lengthened, it’s going to result in the same problems as any gerontocracy. Even those with sound mind and body will represent old views and established interests. They also deny opportunity to talented people who were born later. Randomness is also useful, because every individual attempting to optimize the same thing for themselves will not have the “all other things equal” outcome they were envisioning. “Designer babies” sound like a complete nightmare to me.

  24. kaleberg says

    There was a place on Capital Hill advertising eco-funerals starting back in 2009. It was the People’s Memorial Funeral Cooperative. Crunch enough for you? They advertised home funerals, green burials and life celebrations. They shared their building with a dentist.

    I wonder if they were among the composting activists?

    P.S. For a real hoot, pick up Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death. She wasn’t the Nazi Mitford.

  25. PaulBC says

    kaleberg@31

    Crunch enough for you?

    I have been trying to figure out what “crunch” means in that context. I can’t even find it in urbandictionary.

    I was guessing something like “crunch” like granola, as in granola-head. But maybe I am overthinking. Just curious.

    I remember over 25 years ago Baltimore City Paper used to have an ad with a picture of a guy in a captain’s hat who would scatter your “cremains” at sea. I thought it was really tacky, but to each his own I suppose.

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