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Human composting offers an eco-friendly life after death

A Seattle company pioneers a first-in-the-world method to turn the dearly departed into healthy soil.

SEATTLE — Inside a former warehouse in the Industrial District, a Seattle woman is reinventing the business of death.

Katrina Spade is the founder of Recompose, the first human composting company in the world.

"This is the gathering space," she said, pointing out the features of a spacious room containing about a dozen chairs, vertical panes of colored glass, and a large photo art piece depicting the tranquility of a natural forest.

"We have the person's body laid out here," Spade continued, gesturing toward a space at the center of the room.

Spade and her colleagues think it's time to reconsider the toll that the conventional funeral industry inflicts upon the planet. A standard burial or cremation is carbon-intensive. Embalming adds toxins to the environment. And maintaining a cemetery is a resource-heavy use of land.

"I didn't want my last gesture to be a harmful one," Spade said.

She created a process for natural organic reduction, or human composting, and advocated for its legal acceptance. In 2019, Washington became the first state in the nation to allow it.

"We're not saying everybody has to have this option," Spade said. "We're saying let's add another option to the menu."

At the first facility of its kind anywhere, Recompose hosts what they call "laying-in" ceremonies.

The shrouded body is adorned with flowers and other organic materials before transitioning through an ornamental threshold. 

"It is really a doorway," Spade said.

Behind that doorway, a short tunnel leads to the "greenhouse," a large room where the Recompose staff goes to work behind the scenes.

"It is a sacred space," Spade said.

The cocooned body is then placed in a stainless steel pod along with about one cubic yard of organic material.

"We place a mixture of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw," Spade said. "The person's body is kind of cocooned in a mixture of plant material."

Thus begins a natural, two-to-three-month-long transformation into healthy soil.

"Half of our families donate the soil to our conservation partner, which is a 700-acre forest in southern Washington," Spade said. "The other half come to Recompose here in Sodo, and pick up the soil."

Marie Eaton lost her brother, Wayne Dodge, in 2021.

"I think of him almost daily," she said.

As an avid gardener, Dodge made the choice to be composted, with the soil given to family and friends.

"Wayne is planted all over Seattle," Eaton said.

Where one life ends, others begin.

"Perfect choice for him," Eaton said.

Human composting may not be for everyone. But it does provide a new and very old way to take life's final journey.

"We are providing meaning for many people, and comfort," Spade said.

"The chance for me to give my body back to the earth that has sustained me for my whole life feels like the most sacred act you could possibly engage in at the end of your life," Eaton agreed.

If you would like to see the Recompose facilities for yourself, they offer regularly scheduled public tours.

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