The death care industry attracted global headlines when the USA became the first place to legalize recomposition, a sustainable way to expedite human decomposing. Creating new opportunities for the industry to innovate and build off of.
USA takes the lead for sustainability
On May 21st (2019) Washington State became the first place in the world to legalize natural organic reduction via the process of human composting or recomposition, raising international awareness about the exciting innovations happening in the death care industry.
Cremation and Burials have been the two main stables available to the public in the past. However, the death care industry is lucky to have new players entering the market and offering new solutions to help meet consumers wants and needs.
In 2012 Recompose founder and CEO, Katrina Spade, was a recently graduated architect who had started toying with the idea about designing new sustainable spaces for the departed. When a friend told her about how large farm animals are decomposed. Lighting struck and an idea was born.
Since then, Spade has become the godmother and force behind this emerging development in the processing of expediting the decomposition of human bodies. After 5 years of testing and going back and forth to the drawing board on the design of the space, Spade has made her dream of offering recomposition as new segment in the death care industry a reality, with the first of likely many legalizations of the process this year.
How does it Work
The body is placed in a, patent pending, vessel that is modular and reusable, that holds the additional organic matter needed for the process and also allows for a form of aeration, which replicates the wind in nature. The body is then placed with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw, and heated to 131 F (55 C), killing off any contagions so the resulting soil is safe to use. The overall process is designed to optimize heat loving thermophilic microbes and bacteria with their work, which requires oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon, to breakdown everything on a molecular level (including bones) into a usable soil.
The process takes around 30 days and should yield around 1 cubic yard of nutrient-rich soil, which is estimated to be around three to four wheelbarrows full of soil. Families are then free to take all of the soil, a portion of it, or to leave it completely. Any remaining soil will go to nourish conservation land in the Puget Sound region.
The company estimates that a Recompose service which includes; transportation of the body (within the Seattle metropolitan area), filing of the death, the process of decomposition, and time in their communal space, for friends and family, should cost approximately $5,500 (€4,997).
Sustainability is key
One of the main components behind decompositions legal and societal success is it ́s core of offering a sustainable alternative. It returns bodies quickly to a nature state in the least environmentally damaging way available today. Which is important for cities with declining availability in cemeteries as well as inline with today’s consumers desires. According to research conducted by CGS (November 2018), 68% of US internet users deemed product’s sustainability an important factor in making a purchase, which we know is carrying over into all purchases including end of life decisions. As recorded by Funeral and Memorial Information Council study in 2015 which found that 64% of 40+ year olds were interested in green funerals.
Compared with the sustainability of cremation Recompose says it takes one-eighth the energy of cremation.
Choosing recomposition over cremation or a burial could save up a metric ton of carbon. Which is equal to the energy required to fully charge 467,545 phones. Or put into tangible terms by Recompose, if every Washington resident chose recomposition as their after-death preference, within 10 years, it would save the same amount of energy required to power 54,000 homes for a year. Of course, once participants come from out of the Washington area this counteracts the sustainability initiative.
With the first facility opening at the end of 2020-ish this new organization has the opportunity to make a great impact on the public, however it will take time before it can become legally available and accepted globally.
Not to bring up old dirt, but cremation is one of the oldest methods of disposing of the dead and it fell out of favor for centuries, in the west, only to come back as an available option in the late 1800’s and it still took another century after that to fall back into favor.
So while recomposition is a basic and natural principle, as it took cremation generations to be accepted into the public it is likely that human composition will also need time to be implemented on a global scale as well.
However, the world is more connected than ever and Katrina Spade from Repose raised $90,000 (€81,843) on kickstarter, from international supporters for her cause and talks about how they have already received international inquiries, from around the English speaking world, to bring the process to their countries. But when you have the comparative news of Greece getting their first crematorium this year it is difficult to forecast what the rate of global expansion will be in today’s changing society.
One of the big barriers that still has yet to be addressed is how to continue the memorialisation of the deceased. This is not only a religious issue, but likely to be a topic among potential recomposition future users. It will come down to how the spaces where the family is invited to be will look and feel and how not only Recompose, but other companies can build off this offering to make it in line with today’s customization desires.
Inspiring opportunities for the death care industry to embrace
Recompose has brought an exciting offering to the death care industry that can lend itself to an array of developments. They are open to working with funeral homes and it’s a new opportunity for experts who have been working within the two established formats of cremation and burials to innovate and find new ways to provide and support individuals and families in their time of need.