Become a tree when you die

When Americans die, they're either buried or cremated. Washington may soon become the first state to permit another option: human composting. The novel idea, known as recomposition, involves putting the body in a vessel and then accelerating the decomposition into nutrient-rich soil. The goal is a more natural way of dealing with human remains that are better for the environment. Today we have 2 choices, burial, which may leach chemicals into the ground, or cremation, which releases carbon dioxide.

The push to legalize composting of human remains originates with Katrina Spade, a Seattle based designer who started focusing on the notion in 2013 while working on her master's in architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We really only have two readily accessible choices in the U.S.; cremation and burial. She explained.

Spade's vision was to design a system which will restore people's connection to the earth. A friend introduced her into the farming practice of livestock composting. Farmers and agricultural institutions have been practicing livestock mortality composting for decades. The process involves taking the animal (high in nitrogen) and covering it with co-composting material that is high in carbon. The process requires oxygen and moisture. In the most basic setup, the dead cow is covered with wood chips and left outside. The rain provides moisture and the wind the necessary oxygen. In about 9 months, all that remains is a nutrient-rich compost. It's a kind of magic, said Spade.

The death care revolution has begun. It’s an exciting time to be alive.
— Katrina Spade

Spade and her partners have created a scalable nonprofit urban model based on the science of livestock mortality composting that transforms human beings into nutrient-rich soil. They have partnered and collaborated with experts in soil science, decomposition, alternative death care, law, and architecture. We have raised funds from foundations and partnered with people to design a prototype of this system. The response has been incredible with millions of individuals all around the world showing an interest.

The infrastructure is simple. Within a vertical core, bodies and wood chips undergo accelerated natural decomposition, or composting, and are transformed into soil. When someone dies, the body is carefully transported to a human composting facility. After wrapping the deceased into a shroud, family and friends carry the body to the top of the nucleus, which contains a natural decomposition system. Family and friends then gently place the body in the core and cover it with wood chips. This begins the transformation of human remains to soil. During the next few weeks, the body decomposes naturally. Microbes and bacteria break down the carbon and proteins, to make a brand new substance. This soil can then be utilized to grow new life and even help new trees grow and prosper.

What type of tree would you become?