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What is human composting?

When it comes time to choose a final resting place, there are many options — from a traditional cemetery burial to having a loved one’s remains shot into space. Nowadays, there’s something to suit everyone’s unique, personal desires. Today many of us want to choose a sustainable end-of-life option — like green burial, a private tree in a memorial forest, or human composting. 

While having an abundance of green options is a wonderful thing, it can be confusing to try to understand the differences of the various offerings – especially as more options come up. Here at Better Place Forests, we receive a variety of thoughtful questions from people making end-of-life decisions, including inquiries about the difference between cremation and composting human remains. 

While both human composting and cremation reduce the use of land typically used to bury bodies and eliminate the harsh chemicals used for embalming, they are different processes with different regulations, including what you can and cannot do with the remains afterward. Learn more about human composting, cremation, and other environmentally-friendly end-of-life options below. 

What does human composting mean?

Human composting is similar to the composting you’d do for your garden. Essentially, organic material — in this case, a body — is broken down and becomes nutrient-rich soil that can be used to grow new organic life, like plants and food. This process, known as natural organic reduction (NOR), is an accelerated version of natural decomposition. The term has become more well-known lately thanks in part to a bill that passed in Washington State making human composting legal for the first time.

How is human composting done? 

To compost a human, a body is placed in a vessel surrounded by natural materials like straw, alfalfa, wood, fungi, and bacteria. Oxygen is pumped in, and eventually, the microbes break the body down completely. The body is transformed into soil in approximately thirty days.

Is it legal in all states to human compost?

Not yet. Human composting is currently only legal in Washington and Colorado — and there are bills being considered in California and Oregon. Anyone interested in human composting that’s not currently living in Washington or Colorado would need to have their body shipped to a facility upon their death.

What can you do with human compost?

Human composting has promising environmental benefits, however, the open question is what loved ones can — and can’t — do with the remains in order to memorialize the deceased. Some human composting companies will offer to use the soil to nourish local land, or family or friends of the deceased may pick up the compost. Human composting makes a large amount of soil (about 1 cubic foot) that would need to find a permanent home. 

You can use human remains as compost in your garden if you have a yard, which makes this a good option for families who plan on staying in the same home for many generations. However, it is important to note that if you move, your loved one won’t be able to come with you. Current regulations may prohibit having human compost shipped to you if you live outside of Washington or Colorado. 

Can Better Place Forests spread human compost?

At this time, Better Place Forests only allows cremated remains to be memorialized in our forests. As Better Place Forests expands, we will explore the possibility of allowing both cremated remains and human compost to be spread in our forests.

How does cremation work?

Cremation uses heat to turn the body back to its essential elements. A body is placed in a cremation chamber and the extreme heat vaporizes soft tissue and turns what remains into ash that weighs just a few pounds. Interested in knowing more? Here’s everything you need to know about how cremation works and how long it takes for families to receive ashes after the cremation process. 

Can animals be cremated?

Yes. Your pets can be cremated, which is a better option for the planet than having them buried in a pet cemetery. Their ashes can even join yours under your memorial tree, so you can be with your furry friend throughout eternity

What’s an environmentally-friendly option for cremated remains? 

If you’re passionate about protecting the environment and plan to be cremated, you can have your ashes spread in one of our memorial forests. We conserve forestland that would otherwise be developed, preserving it for future generations to enjoy. We maintain the forests by hiring local experts to steward the land, which creates jobs in the area while protecting the local ecosystem. 

Additionally, we offset cremation emissions by protecting forestland and planting Impact Trees in areas that have been impacted by deforestation or forest fires. Learn more about how we protect forests and how by choosing a memorial tree with Better Place Forests, you create a legacy that protects the planet and the people you love. 

If you’d like your end-of-life plans to involve preserving nature for future generations, book a free online forest tour with one of our advisors.

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