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Washington becomes the first state to offer HUMAN composting services

Washington becomes the first state to offer HUMAN composting services instead of traditional burials to allow loved ones to be turned into mulch for trees

  • Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation in 2019 allowing the state to become the first to approve composting instead of burying or cremating human remains
  • The law went into effect in 2020
  • Composting is seen as a greener alternative to cremation because it requires less energy
  • It also allows Washingtonians to be laid to rest on their own property 
  • Herland Forest is a natural burial cemetery and nonprofit research center based just north of the Columbia River Gorge in Klickitat County
  • The center is one of three facilities in the state licensed to perform natural organic reductions

People wanting a ‘greener’ alternative to traditional burials can now have their body turned into natural fertilizer after Washington State passes the first laws allowing human composting services. 

Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation in 2019 allowing the state to become the first to approve composting instead of burying or cremating human remains. The law went into effect in 2020.

The procedure is now available at three facilities in Washington. Composting is seen as a greener alternative to cremation because it requires less energy. It also allows Washingtonians to be laid to rest on their own property, KOIN reports.  

Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation in 2019 allowing the state to become the first to approve composting instead of burying or cremating human remains. Walt Patrick at Herland Forest

‘This is simply another option at a time when people feel they have no options,’ said Walt Patrick, senior steward at Herland Forest. ‘You know, death has intervened and changed your life forever. How can you do something at least to make it the way you want?’

Herland Forest is a natural burial cemetery and nonprofit research center based just north of the Columbia River Gorge in Klickitat County.

The center is one of three facilities in the state licensed to perform NOR. In addition to Herland Forest, Seattle-based Recompose got their first bodies in December. 

Return Home out of Auburn, the third facility, is expected to open later in the year. 

Herland Forest is a natural burial cemetery and nonprofit research center based just north of the Columbia River Gorge in Klickitat County

Herland Forest is a natural burial cemetery and nonprofit research center based just north of the Columbia River Gorge in Klickitat County

The center is one of three facilities in the state licensed to perform NOR

The center is one of three facilities in the state licensed to perform NOR

Referring to the usage of the NOR vessel as ‘investment,’ Patrick said that it could take several weeks before the composting process is finished.   

‘We’re in the cemetery business, so your customers are deciding what it is they want,’ he said. ‘That’s why we just built the one unit because we didn’t know what kind of interest people would have in it and we didn’t want to commit a huge amount of resources to a path that may or may not be well accepted.’ 

According to Patrick, a body is placed inside a NOR (Natural Organic Reduction) cradle with 200 gallons of wood chips. Bacteria, protozoa and fungi is mixed in by facilitators to help speed up the reduction process.

Oxygen is added to the cradle to keep it in the 145-155 degree range, with solar panels adding extra heat when needed. The cradle is tumbled periodically to help send oxygen through the chamber.

In addition to Herland Forest, Seattle-based Recompose got their first bodies in December

In addition to Herland Forest, Seattle-based Recompose got their first bodies in December

'This is simply another option at a time when people feel they have no options,' said Walt Patrick, senior steward at Herland Forest. 'You know, death has intervened and changed your life forever. How can you do something at least to make it the way you want?'

‘This is simply another option at a time when people feel they have no options,’ said Walt Patrick, senior steward at Herland Forest. ‘You know, death has intervened and changed your life forever. How can you do something at least to make it the way you want?’

Referring to the usage of the NOR vessel as 'investment,' Patrick said that it could take several weeks before the composting process is finished

Referring to the usage of the NOR vessel as ‘investment,’ Patrick said that it could take several weeks before the composting process is finished

Because humans may have dental filings, screws or other unnatural materials, the cradle has to be filtered when decomposition has been mostly completed. The bones are also crumbled so that they can release phosphorus. 

Four, 55-gallon drums of usable compost come as a result. Patrick shared that that is given to the family, who can decide to keep all of it or donate it for the trees in the cemetery. 

Currently as there is no demand, there haven’t been many investments in cradles or a need to build them. Patrick and the crew at Herland are ready to start building again if demand calls for it.

Recompose shared with KOIN 6 that they have started the process for eight bodies and have 420 ‘Precombose’ members who have paid in advance for their future death care.  

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