"It would be such a wonderful thing for me—to be able to just walk through [my garden] and be like, 'Oh, hi, Mom,'" Rachel Gerberding told her dying mother. She wasn't talking about somehow burying her there. She was thinking of composting her mom—and her mom was on board. As Eleanor Cummins writes for the Verge, human composting exists, and it's "the first truly new form of final disposition developed in decades." It's more technically known as natural organic reduction, or NOR. It's been an option in Washington state since 2019 and has since become legal in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Vermont as well. Cummins describes the multi-step process, which starts with putting the body in a biodegradable gown and placing it in a vessel containing alfalfa, straw, and sawdust. Loved ones can add compostable tokens (think flowers or letters) at that point.
The body spends 30 days in the vessel, until bones and a soil-like material remain; the bones and compost are then put into a machine that will transform everything into fragments, and over the final 30 days, the compost is occasionally rotated in a tumbler. The end result is about 400 pounds of soil, given to families in breathable burlap sacks. The method isn't the only thing that's wildly different from traditional burials: so is the timeline. While families typically make arrangements in a "few chaotic days," Cummins cites one company, Return Home, whose NOR process takes at least two months, during which the family is able to visit the facility and sit in front of their loved one's vessel at any time. As for the cost, Return Home's NOR services, at $5,500, fall between the cost of the average cremation (about half that) and funeral (about double that). (Read the full story for much more.)