Our Model

Recompose uses a process called natural organic reduction to gently transform human remains into soil. This soil can then be used to regenerate the earth that supports us our whole lives.

arrangement of dried woodchips, leaves and dirt

Environmental Impact

Recompose utilizes the principles of nature to return bodies to the land, sequestering carbon and improving the health of our natural surroundings.

wood chips, shavings and leaves

Healing the Climate

For every person who chooses Recompose over conventional burial or cremation, one metric ton of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering the atmosphere. In addition, our process requires 1/8 the energy of conventional burial or cremation. Recompose allows you to choose an end-of-life option that strengthens the environment rather than depleting it.

Moving Away from Toxic Practices

Current funerary practices are environmentally problematic. Each year, 2.7 million people die in the U.S., and most are buried in a conventional cemetery or cremated.

Cremation burns fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide and particulates into the atmosphere. Conventional burial consumes valuable urban land, pollutes the soil, and contributes to climate change through resource-intensive manufacture and transport of caskets, headstones, and grave liners. The overall environmental impact of conventional burial and cremation is about the same.

Creating Soil Health

The breakdown of organic matter is an essential component in the cycle that allows the death of one organism to nurture the life of another. Soil is the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. It filters water, provides nutrients to plants, sequesters carbon, and helps regulate global temperature.

The Process

The graphic below illustrates how the Recompose process works. Microbes, oxygen, and plant matter combine to gently convert human remains into soil.

PHASE 1

The Cycle Begins

Natural organic reduction (NOR) is powered by beneficial microbes that occur naturally on our bodies and in the environment.

PHASE 2

The Laying In

Our staff 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.

PHASE 3

The Vessel

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.

PHASE 4

The Soil

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.

PHASE 5

Life After Death

The resulting soil returns the nutrients from our bodies to the natural world. It restores forests, sequesters carbon, and nourishes new life.

The Forest

Each body that completes the Recompose process creates a cubic yard of nutrient-rich soil amendment. We offer the opportunity to donate this soil to Bells Mountain, a 700-acre nonprofit land trust in southern Washington.

Welcome to Bells Mountain image

Welcome to Bells Mountain

This forest is a legally protected natural wilderness and will remain so in perpetuity. The land’s caretakers use the soil donated by Recompose to support the continued revitalization of wetlands, riparian habitats, local plants, and vulnerable wildlife species.

 

The Forest Needs You image

The Forest Needs You

Following a century of abuse and neglect, cleared lands battered by sun and wind are left with degraded soils and stunted forests. The soil Recompose delivers will enrich recovering clear-cut fields, helping them to flourish once again.

Healthy soil empowers agroforestry, holistic range management, and ecological development, all of which reduce negative climate impacts and contribute to the regeneration of natural ecosystems.

Visiting the Forest image

Visiting the Forest

We will welcome visitors to Bells Mountain starting in 2021. This verdant forest landscape features towering evergreens, flowering meadows, clear mountain ponds, and sweeping views of Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

We will offer tours to friends and family of Recompose clients who have donated their soil after death, as well as people who are interested in choosing Recompose for themselves.

FAQ

Please see below for more detailed information about the process, the environmental impact, and how Recompose differs from other options. These FAQs offer an additional layer of detail to questions about why this process is needed and the science behind its safety and efficacy.

Environmental Impact

To understand the specific environmental impacts of the Recompose process, Dr. Troy Hottle developed a life-cycle model to compare conventional burial, cremation, green burial, and natural organic reduction (NOR). The model demonstrates that NOR and green burial perform far better than cremation or conventional burial for the majority of impact categories. In scenarios meant to replicate typical death care practices in the US, NOR performed the best in the global warming potential category (GWP). Thanks to the carbon sequestration which occurs throughout the process, we estimate that between .84 and 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved each time someone chooses organic reduction over cremation or conventional burial.

In fact, the environmental impact of conventional burial and cremation are about the same. Cremation uses fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Each cremation uses 28 gallons of gas, about the size of the gas tank in a large SUV, and about 1.6 million people are cremated in the United States each year. Conventional burial also creates emissions from the manufacture and transport of headstones, caskets, and grave liners, and requires ongoing upkeep of cemeteries.

For every person who chooses natural organic reduction over conventional burial or cremation, a total of between .84 and 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering or is removed from the atmosphere. This is due to a combination of factors. NOR uses a much lower volume of resources like fossil fuels than conventional burial or cremation. Also, the process itself transforms the organic material of our bodies and the plant materials into soil. This sequesters some of the carbon in that soil material. Rather than being released as carbon dioxide gas through exhaust during a cremation, the carbon matter contained in each body returns to the earth.

Green, or natural, burial refers to the practice of burying an unembalmed body in a designated green burial cemetery with a simple casket or shroud. Much like the Recompose process, green burial encourages natural decomposition. However, the Recompose process, called natural organic reduction, takes place in a closed, reusable vessel. It is not a type of burial because the body is not placed in the ground.

Natural organic reduction creates an environment in which beneficial microbes thrive, with a specific moisture content and ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials. This allows for the transformation of a body in about thirty days. The molecular processes that take place in a Recompose vessel are the same processes that break down a body during green burial. However, these processes typically take much longer in a green burial context. This is partly because not as much oxygen reaches a body that has been buried underground.

Conceptually, both green burial and natural organic reduction return a body to the earth. Natural organic reduction was designed as an urban solution, where land is often scarce. Both processes are part of a worldwide movement to make death care practices less harmful – and ideally beneficial – to the planet.

Alkaline hydrolysis, also called water cremation or aquamation, is another process for the disposition of remains. It takes place in a pressurized vessel filled with water and potassium hydroxide, which transforms the body into a sand-like material.

Although it does not sequester carbon dioxide or build soil health, alkaline hydrolysis has some of the same environmental benefit as natural organic reduction. Most significantly, alkaline hydrolysis uses just 1/8 the energy required by cremation.

Process

Yes. As of May 2020, natural organic reduction is legal in Washington State. There are also bills aimed at legalizing the process in California, Colorado, and elsewhere. The legal definition of natural organic reduction is the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil. For more information, please visit our Public Policy page.

The Recompose vessel is where the transformation from human to soil takes place. It is a steel cylinder, 8 feet long and 4 feet tall. The vessel rests inside of a hexagonal frame.

After you die, your body will be laid into the vessel onto a bed of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over the next 30 days, everything inside the vessel breaks down thanks to natural decomposition. The soil is removed and placed into a curing bin, where it is aerated for several more weeks. Then, it can be donated for conservation efforts or given back to the person of your choosing. When we designed the Recompose vessel, we thought a lot about durability, functionality, and also, a pleasing design.

Natural organic reduction (NOR) is a managed biological process used to convert human remains into a stable, earthy organic material that is unrecognizable as human remains. During the process, microbes create temperatures of more than 131° Fahrenheit, and the temperature remains above 131° F for several days. This heat destroys harmful pathogens and causes change on a molecular level.

A form of natural organic reduction has been practiced for decades by farmers as a way of recycling livestock back to the earth. The safety of this practice has been well documented by many different Departments of Ecology and research universities around the United States.

In 2018, Washington State University completed research to demonstrate that natural organic reduction is a safe and effective means of human disposition. You can read the results of that study here.

Everything – including bones and teeth – transforms. By controlling the ratio of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture, our system creates the perfect environment for thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes and beneficial bacteria to thrive. Recompose staff also blend the material at several points during the process to ensure thorough aeration and decomposition, which helps to break up any remaining bone fragments and teeth.

At the end of the process, Recompose staff screen for non-organics and make sure the resultant soil is ready for use. The material we give back to families is much like the topsoil you’d buy at your local nursery. At the end of natural organic reduction, all that remains is soft, beautiful soil.

Natural organic reduction (NOR) is a managed, thermophilic, biological process used to convert organic material, including human remains, into a more stable earthy organic material. During the process, change occurs on a molecular level. Pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, are reduced to safe levels as they are decomposed by microorganisms.

We screen for non-organics like metal fillings, pacemakers, prostheses, and artificial joints during the process. These items are recycled when possible.

Natural organic reduction creates the perfect environment for microbes and beneficial bacteria to thrive. When they do, they create temperatures of 120° to 160° Fahrenheit. These temperatures destroy harmful pathogens and transform the body, wood chips, and straw into a soil which is perfectly safe for humans and plant life.

There are three rare diseases that disqualify a body from undergoing NOR: Ebola, prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, and tuberculosis.

Recompose is committed to following all federal, state, and local regulations regarding communicable diseases including coronaviruses. As we learn more about COVID-19, these regulations will continue to change, and Recompose will adapt accordingly. Our goal, now and always, is to care for and ensure the safety of the person who has died, their friends and family, our team, our community, and our environment.

In Washington State, all currently legal disposition options are considered safe and can be performed on a COVID-19 patient. The greatest risk for transmission after death comes from the handling of the body and associated surfaces. As such, all funeral home staff must take state-required precautions, regardless of the disposition method chosen.

Regarding Recompose’s process specifically, decades of research on composting livestock as well as Recompose’s research with Washington State University have proven it to be a safe and effective process for eliminating pathogens. Recompose’s process takes place in a closed vessel, where the body remains for 30 days. The environment within the Recompose vessel reaches temperatures of more than 131°F and remains above that temperature threshold for several days. According to research on the SARS coronavirus, coronaviruses like COVID-19 can survive for less than 90 minutes at temperatures above 131°F, and our process maintains a temperature of 131°F for at least 72 hours. Research on the particular COVID-19 virus is still ongoing.

The process of natural organic reduction destroys most harmful pathogens. There are a few pathogens that make a person ineligible for natural organic reduction: tuberculosis, prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), and Ebola. Monitoring for these diseases is the responsibility of hospitals and medical examiners. People who have had a radiation seed implant within 30 days of death are also not eligible for our process unless the organ is removed.

In Washington State, where Recompose operates, natural organic reduction must be performed by a licensed operator in a licensed facility. You can read more about these licenses in The Washington Administrative Code.

For now, Recompose is focusing only on death care for humans, not pets.

Company

Recompose uses the phrase “friends and family” to refer to the people who matter to you. Chosen friends and family can include nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not.

Your “agent” is the person who is legally allowed to make decisions for your death care. They do not have to be a blood relation. If you do not designate an agent, the position of agent will automatically go to your legal next-of-kin. This is usually a spouse, a child or children, a parent or parents, or sibling or siblings, in that order. If you sign up for Precompose, our prepayment option, we will share more information about how to designate an agent to be responsible for executing your end-of-life wishes.

In the coming years, Recompose will be working to expand our legal efforts to more states and eventually around the world. We’ll announce all future expansions via our newsletter.

In the U.S., the laws governing human remains vary greatly from state to state, as do the processes for passing new laws. Because of this, we don’t have an easy template for how to pass a law like SB5001 in additional states. You can read more about this on our Public Policy page.

Thank you to everyone who has written to us about how you can bring Recompose to your area. The best thing you can do right now is to start having conversations about why we need more death care options. Talking to friends and family about your end-of-life wishes and why Recompose is meaningful for you is a great way to start building interest and demand in your area. As Recompose expands, the number of people who are interested in our service is a big factor in choosing which states we pursue next.

Thank you for your interest in helping Recompose. Unfortunately, because Recompose is subject to employment laws, we are not eligible to take on volunteers. We are grateful for your offer and are sorry to have to decline.

There are a lot of great organizations doing similar work who can take volunteers, we suggest seeking out advocacy groups around ecological death care or hospice volunteer programs in your area. You can also check out our Jobs page or sign up for our newsletter to hear about potential future paid positions.

Respectfully, we are a very small team and we don’t currently have the time to participate. You are welcome to use materials you find on the website with proper credit. Good luck with your project!

Thank you for your interest in covering Recompose. You are welcome to use the information on this website for your article, with proper citation.

If you don’t find what you need there, you can email media@recompose.life. Please note Recompose is a small team and we may not have time to complete every interview.

As availability permits, Recompose staff is happy to appear as a virtual guest speaker for your community group such as a Rotary club, death care training, or environmental advocacy group. If you are interested in having Recompose speak to your group please email info@recompose.life.

Land Acknowledgement

Recompose acknowledges we make our lives and livelihoods on the lands of the Coast Salish People, specifically the Duwamish People. We honor with gratitude the Duwamish People past and present, the land itself, and the Duwamish Tribe.

Colonization is an active, persistent process. Indigenous communities continue to be resilient in protecting their ecological and cultural lifeways and deathways despite ongoing oppression. Recompose respects, shares, and supports this commitment to climate healing and environmental justice. Join Recompose in contributing to Real Rent Duwamish.

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