September 24, 2022

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New trend in after-death services gives new meaning to ‘pushing up daisies’

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Micah Truman, CEO of Return Home, holds a container of soil made with animal remains that is used to show what the product of their process looks like. Behind him are bales of straw, which is used in the two-month composing process.

Micah Truman, CEO of Return Home, holds a container of soil made with animal remains that is used to show what the product of their process looks like. Behind him are bales of straw, which is used in the two-month composing process.

Technology can be found in a lot of different places in this day and age, through every stage of life. And now, even in death.

There are all manner of euphemisms for death, notably “pushing up daisies,” an expression referring to flowers growing over a grave. It was first recorded in 1918, in a poem about World War I written by Wilfred Owen: “The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now./ ‘Pushing up daisies,’ is their creed, you know./ To grain, then, go my fat, to buds my sap,/ For all the usefulness there is in soap.”

Other phrases include the more-familiar “kick the bucket” and “passed away.”

A company in Washington state is named “Return Home,” and deals in the process of “terramation,” which turns out to be a made-up word for the “composting of human remains,” sometimes called “natural organic reduction.”

Return Home is one of several companies in Washington state dealing in the relatively new alternative to burial and cremation using “a combination of sensors, software and specially constructed vessels to gently transform human remains into fertile soil in only 60 days. The soil is given to loved ones to use as they wish.”

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The composting takes place over a period of 30 to 60 days, depending on the company and method used for the conversion. The remains are placed in a steel cylinder with air and oxygen, moisture and temperature — all controlled by computers and monitored every 10 minutes. The cylinders are kept at around 130 degrees to aid in decomposition.

The addition of computers to the process has helped speed the process, and also allowed for more tanks to be controlled at one time. A Return Home spokesman said the company can convert 74 bodies a month into soil. Bones and teeth don’t decompose and must be ground up or screened out during the final process.

The spokesman added that composting has its advantages over both burial (which can emit toxic chemicals and take up land) and cremation (which emit 550 pounds of carbon dioxide per body). “Our natural terramation process provides a sustainable, Earth-friendly alternative that allows every person to pay the gift of life forward,” he said.

The process has developed in Washington state because it was first in the nation to legalize the human composting in 2019. California considered a bill to allow it last year, but it died at the end of the legislative session.

Colorado legalized it in May; Oregon the following month. It’s under consideration in New York, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont, (Colorado’s law made it illegal to use human-sourced soil to grow food that people eat; use is permitted in flower gardens.)

An exit sign is posted on a rack of metal vessels where human bodies are kept during the first month of a two-month composing process at Return Home.

An exit sign is posted on a rack of metal vessels where human bodies are kept during the first month of a two-month composing process at Return Home.

Current pricing is not cheap. The National Funeral Directors Association places the cost at $4,000 to $5,500, depending on the company and services offered. (The cost of getting the body to the facility may or may not be included, for instance.) Advocates of human composting note that burials and cremations can also run into the thousands of dollars.

In the end, about a cubic yard (two wheelbarrows) of human compost is produced. Relatives can use it for soil, place some in an urn, or send it to a conservation forest or other site.

In percentages of cremation, there are two cremations in Florida for each burial. Fifty years ago, the percentage of cremations in the state didn’t even rate in double digits, but gradually became an accepted alternative.

Lonnie Brown

Lonnie Brown

Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens in the nation at 21%. With other states considering it, “natural organic reduction” will likely be in Florida’s future as well.

Lonnie Brown can be contacted at [email protected]

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Composting human remains is slowly growing trend

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