Want to be sustainable after you die? From soil to soil, cradle to compost – Philippine Canadian Inquirer

Natural organic reduction, or human composting, is a process of converting human remains into soil. (Pexels photo)

By Rumina Dhalla, University of Guelph and Stephanie M Villers, University of Waterloo, The Conversation

Despite increasing legislation and popularity, sustainable funeral solutions are still relatively unknown.

Some say this is because death and death care—burial and cremation services for the dead—are taboo subjects and therefore not discussed openly. Others argue that society discourages us from talking about death.

However, recent data shows that more than half of Americans surveyed would be interested in “green” or sustainable funeral options. Sustainable funeral services are becoming a sought-after option, and their providers are quickly establishing a presence and viable competitor in the industry.

An emerging phenomenon is the interest in and acceptance of sustainable funeral care options, coupled with the recent legalization of Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) – or human composting – being legalized in parts of the United States.

What is human composting?

NOR is the process of turning the human body into soil. Popular media sometimes refers to this as “cradle to compost.” This movement is credited with the creation of Recompose, a company founded in 2017 with the mission of providing a sustainable option for end-of-life care using NOR.

Consumers are increasingly viewing human composting as a legitimate option, especially as it gains legislative approval in the U.S. The state of Washington passed legislation in 2019, followed by Colorado and Oregon in 2021, Vermont and California in 2022, New York and Nevada in 2023, and Arizona, Maryland, and Delaware in 2024. Bills are pending in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia.

In Canada, human composting, while not yet legal, is also gaining popularity. Canadians can now turn to Return Home, a Seattle-based company, for their human composting options.

Does it cost more to save the planet?

Currently, funeral services in the United States cost over US$7,800 for a burial and about US$7,000 for cremation. Recompose charges about US$7,000 for its human composting process.

For those who are committed to sustainability, burials have drawbacks, as embalming chemicals are used that leach into the earth, and many use caskets that are resource-intensive and expensive. Burials require land for burial sites, which can be a challenge in areas with limited space.

Cremations require intensive energy use and can also release harmful gases into the environment. It is estimated that cremations produce 573 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per cremated body, and crematories are responsible for approximately 360,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in the U.S. each year.

Industry estimates suggest NOR saves approximately one ton of CO2 compared to a traditional funeral and mortuary service.

What do consumers want?

Consumer interest in sustainable funeral care is growing rapidly, with online searches for sustainable options estimated to have increased by over 71 percent.

While some clearly legitimize sustainable funeral care options, there is also a backlash from religious organizations. For example, the Catholic Church has indicated that it finds human composting disrespectful to the human body. Other opponents compare it to feeding people to people, referring to the cult film Soylent Greenwhile others say it’s composting grandma.

However, NOR advocates focus on the environmental benefits of reducing carbon footprint, leaching of harmful chemicals, resource intensity and pollution, as well as social benefits. For example, growing trees in the ground as memorials to loved ones.

The broader lack of information and the lack of sustainable options that the funeral industry offers is not stopping consumers from seeking out sustainable alternatives. So how do consumers seek out information when they are looking for sustainable funeral options, when there is so little information available to them? We found that consumers look to social media and the influence of others to explore and adopt sustainable funeral services.

Our research found that consumers use word-of-mouth online to find information and options. They are influenced by the comments of others. They also look for celebrity endorsements. For example, leading sustainable funeral services company Recompose has attracted high-profile investors such as Margaret Atwood.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s body underwent alkaline hydrolysis or “water cremation,” where the body is immersed in a mixture of water and alkali. Actor Luke Perry was buried in a “mushroom suit,” where the body is buried in organic cotton soaked with mushroom mycelium and other microorganisms that accelerate decomposition.

Is another sector turned upside down?

As consumers push for sustainable funeral care options, our research shows there is little appetite within the funeral industry to offer more sustainable funeral care options.

It’s no surprise that today’s funeral industry, estimated to be worth over $20 billion in the U.S., is resistant to change. What’s more, consumers largely make decisions about funeral services when they’re grieving for family members, and are thus vulnerable to pushy sales tactics, upselling, or confusing funeral service pricing.

Whether the sector is ready or not, sustainable funeral care is expected to become a multi-billion dollar market and take over a large part of the existing funeral industry.The conversation

Rumina Dhalla, Associate Professor, Organizational Studies and Sustainable Trade and Director of the Institute for Sustainable Commerce, University of Guelph and Stephanie M Villers, university lecturer – education track, Faculty of Economics, University of Waterloo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.