FAQ

What exactly is recomposition?

Recomposition is the service we offer to return bodies to the earth. It uses the process of “natural organic reduction” to gently convert human remains into soil. Our goal is to offer recomposition as an alternative choice to cremation and conventional burial.

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What is Recompose?

Recompose is a company founded by Katrina Spade to offer “natural organic reduction” to the public. In the future, we will provide the service of recomposition in facilities by staff who value transparency, participation, and choice. We recognize that for many, death is a momentous spiritual event.

 
Vision of a Future Recompose Facility, Image by MOLT Studios

Vision of a Future Recompose Facility, Image by MOLT Studios

 

The transformation of human to soil happens inside our reusable, hexagonal recomposition vessels. When the process has finished, families will be able to take home some of the soil created, while gardens on-site will remind us that all of life is interconnected.

Recompose is a Public Benefit Corporation, prioritizing people and the environment over profit.

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How does Recompose improve upon CURRENT FUNERAL PRACTICES?

Current funerary practices are environmentally harmful and, for some, psychologically unsatisfying. The current practices are part historical convention and part funeral industry mandate. Each year, 2.7 million people die in the U.S., and most are buried in a conventional cemetery or cremated, emitting carbon dioxide and particulates into the atmosphere. These practices consume valuable urban land, pollute the air and soil, and contribute to climate change.

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how does natural organic reduction help the environment?

By converting human remains into soil, we minimize waste, avoid polluting groundwater with embalming fluid, and prevent the emissions of CO2 from cremation and from the manufacturing of caskets, headstones, and grave liners.

By allowing organic processes to transform our bodies and those of our loved ones into a useful soil amendment, we help to strengthen our relationship to the natural cycles while enriching the earth.

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have you measured specific impact on climate change?

To understand the specific environmental impacts of recomposition, our team completed a Life Cycle Assessment comparing conventional burial, cremation, natural burial, and recomposition. In our preliminary findings, recomposition performed the best out of all four options in the majority of categories.

Notably, recomposition performed the best in the global warming potential category (GWP). Thanks to the carbon sequestration which occurs at different points throughout the recomposition process, we estimate that a metric ton of CO2 will be saved each time someone chooses recomposition over cremation or conventional burial.

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Is the process legal?

On May 21, 2019, Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5001 which legalizes natural organic reduction, or “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil”. The law will go into effect on May 1, 2020.

 
Katrina Spade and the Recompose Team joined funeral directors, scientists, senators, and grassroots activists as Governor Jay Inslee signed SB5001 into law on May 21, 2019.

Katrina Spade and the Recompose Team joined funeral directors, scientists, senators, and grassroots activists as Governor Jay Inslee signed SB5001 into law on May 21, 2019.

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Can i sign up in advance for this option?

Not yet, but we hope to offer "pre-arrangements" of our services in the future. Please sign up for updates here, and you'll be notified when we have a way for you to sign up in advance.

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how much will the service cost?

Our team is still working on pricing our services. Our goal is to build a sustainable business to make recomposition a permanent death care option, serve people for decades to come, and make our services available to all who want them.

We expect the Recompose service to cost more than a direct cremation, but less than a conventional burial. Besides creating accessible pricing, we are forming a community fund to support those with fewer assets.

If you sign up for updates here, we'll notify you when prices are available.

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When will this option be available in my city?

We are working diligently to bring our service of recomposition to the public as soon as possible. In early 2019, we engaged with the WA State legislature to make “natural organic reduction” a legal option for disposition in Washington. Our flagship facility will be constructed in the city of Seattle.

It is our intention to replicate the Recompose model in communities and cultures where this natural method serves regional needs and aesthetic.

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What happens to the bones?

Everything - including bones and teeth – is recomposed. That’s because our system creates the perfect environment for thermophilic (i.e. heat-loving) microbes and beneficial bacteria to break everything down quite quickly. By controlling the ratio of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture, our system creates the perfect environment for these creatures to thrive. We also mix the material at several points during the process to ensure thorough decomposition.

At the end of the 30 days, we screen for non-organics and make sure the resultant soil is finished. The material we give back to families is much like the topsoil you'd buy at your local nursery.  At the end of our process, all that remains is soft, beautiful soil.

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What happens to any drugs or pharmaceuticals or antibiotics that remain in a body after death?

Natural organic reduction 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. Most pharmaceuticals - including antibiotics - and other drugs are reduced by the natural organic reduction process as they are decomposed by microorganisms.

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What about artificial hips?

We screen for non-organics like metal fillings, pacemakers, and artificial limbs during the process, and recycle them whenever possible.

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

what about pathogens (i.e. microorganisms that can cause disease)?

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Are there any instances where someone would not be a candidate for natural organic reduction?

The process of natural organic reduction destroys most harmful pathogens. However, there is not enough evidence showing that the process breaks down prion disease. So, someone who has died of a prion disease, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, would not be a candidate for natural organic reduction. Similarly, someone who has died of a highly contagious disease such as Ebola (an outbreak of which would be managed by the CDC) would not be a candidate for natural organic reduction.

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How much soil is created per person?

Our process creates about a cubic yard of soil per person, which is a lot! Friends and family are welcome to take some (or all) home to grow a tree or a garden. Any remaining soil will go to nourish conservation land in the Puget Sound region.

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How is this different from green burial?

Our process is modeled on green burial, but designed for our cities where land is scarce. Recomposition happens inside of a vessel, which is modular and re-usable. Bodies are covered with wood chips and aerated, providing the perfect environment for naturally occurring microbes and beneficial bacteria. Over the span of about 30 days, the body is recomposed, creating soil which can then be used to grow new life.

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what's the history of recompose?

 

In 2012, as a graduate student of architecture, Katrina Spade began researching the funeral industry. She became disappointed in the environmental ethic of both cremation and conventional burial, and saddened by what she saw of the often dis-empowering and opaque culture of the funeral industry. Attracted by the concept of natural burials, Katrina set out to design an environmentally sustainable, urban-focused method of disposition of the dead.

After graduating, Katrina worked nights and weekends on the idea for a full year. Then in 2014, she received the Echoing Green Climate Fellowship to fund her work. She founded the non-profit Urban Death Project (UDP) and began collaborating with researchers in soil science, law, and funeral practices to lay the foundation for a new type of death care to exist.

From 2014-2016, the UDP worked to create awareness of the problem of a toxic industry, researched the legal landscape relating to the care of the dead, and performed several model human decomposition studies in collaboration with Western Carolina University's Forensic Anthropology Department. Successes included a Kickstarter Campaign that raised over $90,000 from backers all over the world, a social media campaign that reached hundreds of thousands of people, and positive media attention from The Guardian, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times.

In early 2017, it became clear that it was time to start a company to pilot the recomposition system and raise the funds to open the first facility. Katrina and her board decided to close the non-profit UDP, and Katrina founded Recompose, a public benefit corporation.

Our mission is to offer a new form of death care that honors both our loved ones and the planet earth.

To keep informed of our progress, please sign up for our newsletter!