By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Kent, WA, now hosts the United States’ first human composting funeral home, The Seattle Times reported. This newly developed method of corpse disposal is a kind of soil-based cremation. Traditional composting is key to this new industry.
According to The Seattle Times, a new kind of funeral home is the first of its ilk to open in the United States. “Somewhere in Kent, tucked anonymously into acres of warehouses and light-industrial workshops, the first full-service human-composting funeral home in the United States is operational,” the article said.
“After nearly a decade of planning, researching, and fundraising—not to mention a successful campaign to change state law—Recompose is finally converting people into soil. The first bodies were ‘laid in’ on Dec. 20, 2020, a landmark moment on a nearly 10-year journey.”
Despite different contents, normal composting in your garden is similar enough to this new burial method that reviewing garden composting can help understand the process of this method.
What Else to Compost
Melinda Myers, horticulturist and gardening expert, said in a lecture for The Great Courses that there are many things to compost—”all you need to do is put it in a heap and let it rot,” she said. One of those things is plant material that is insect- and disease-free, since disease and insect problems will transfer over to composting.
“Grass clippings, but be sure they haven’t been treated with herbicides or pesticides,” Myers said. “You can use annual weeds as mulch as long as they haven’t gone to flower or seed; the same goes for your compost bin.
“Coffee grounds are excellent, and the paper filters you brew your coffee in. They’re really a great way: You can either spread them on the soil surface as mulch or put them in the compost pile.”
Finally, degradable tea bags, egg shells, twigs, and branches can also be added. However, Myers emphasized that bones, meat, and dairy must absolutely not make it into any compost bin because they bring rodents. Weeds that have gone to seed are also a big no-no, as are the aforementioned diseased or insect-infected plants. Invasive plants are also a problem.
When composting, it can help to have a compost bin to protect compost from blowing away or spilling over. Placed in the sun, compost decomposes more quickly, but it also dries more quickly, and will need more frequent watering. Shaded compost areas are the opposite. Once a compost location is decided, it’s time to start building one layer at a time.
“The first layer is going to be six to eight inches of green, nitrogen-rich material, like kitchen scraps and glass clippings,” Myers said. “Then, we’re also going to add brown material—carbon-rich things, like peat moss or dried leaves.”
Myers added that in the 1980s, a big push for composting resulted in a mantra of “Equal parts of green and brown help the microbes break it down.” While that is a terrific guideline, it’s not a strict rule. Eventually, all compost breaks down.
“‘Juicy’ materials are usually high in nitrogen,” she said. “Things that maybe have an animal origin like blood meal or manure; those are typically high in nitrogen. Drier material—older, woody vegetable material and plant tissues—are usually higher in carbon.”
After these first two layers have been put into the compost bin, Myers said to sprinkle a layer of compost or soil over the top, which contains microorganisms that will help the debris decompose. Then, follow that with some low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer. After several days, the compost will heat up and start to cool off. At this point, it can be left alone for a simple approach. Or, it can be “turned” inside-out to bring the more decomposed material from the center to the outside and the less decomposed material from the outside to the center. The result will be a higher-quality compost.
Human composting involves accelerating the decomposition process of the body—sometimes with the use of biodegradable coffins—in the spirit of a faster and “greener” return to Earth. Time will tell if this new burial method catches on.
This article contains material taught by Melinda Myers in her course How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening for Everyone. Myers is a horticulturist, certified arborist, gardening expert, television/radio host, columnist, and author. She earned her BS in Horticulture from The Ohio State University and her MS in Horticulture from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.