Frequently Asked Questions About Human Composting

A new choice for nature lovers, conservationists and those who want to protect the planet for future generations, human composting is an alternative to burial and cremation.

What is human composting?

Human composting, also called natural organic reduction, closely imitates the natural cycle of life. This gentle process uses natural elements, such as wood chips, mulch and wildflowers, to convert a loved one’s body into nutrient-rich soil. In just a few weeks, the resulting soil can be returned to the earth.

Get A Guide to Human Composting

Learn what you need to know about this new end-of-life option, from how it works to what happens to the soil and more.

Who is eligible?

Most people are eligible for human composting. There are some exclusions, including those who:

  • Have radioactive implants.
  • Died as a result of a radiological incident or accident.
  • Had, or were suspected of having, prion disease, mycobacterium tuberculosis or Ebola.

At this time we are also unable to accommodate loved ones heavier than 250 pounds.

Where is it legal?

In May 2020, Washington became the first state to legalize human composting. It’s now legal in Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, California, New York, Nevada and Arizona as well. At least a dozen other states are working to pass legislation that would allow it to take place there.

What is the process?

First, to prepare your loved one for transformation, we gently wash and dress them in a biodegradable shroud. We also give your loved one an identification pendant, so there’s never any doubt whom we’re with.

Next, your loved one is placed on a layer of organic mulch and woodchip in a vessel designed especially for composting. Handpicked local wildflowers are scattered over the body before the vessel is sealed.

Then, with a little water, a little heat, and the careful balancing of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, we create the perfect conditions for naturally occurring microorganisms to break down the body and gently transform it into soil.

What about the bones and teeth?

Bones and teeth don’t break down in the human composting process the way the rest of the body does. Instead, they are removed from the soil and reduced to a fine powder before being returned to the soil.

How long does human composting take?

The approximate time from when your loved one is placed in the vessel until soil is ready to be returned to you is 45 days.

How will the soil be returned to me?

The human composting process results in far too much soil for most families, approximately a half cubic yard. The majority choose to receive back only a small portion of their loved one’s soil. Most families take home one to five containers of soil.

Each recyclable, biodegradable, compostable container is 32 ounces and designed to store your loved one’s soil until you’re able to scatter or plant it. You may pick up the soil, one of our associates can deliver it to you, or we can send it to you by mail.

Should you wish to receive back all of your loved one’s soil—about 300 pounds—we can arrange for that as well.

What can my family do with the soil?

You may choose to place your loved one’s soil in a meaningful location. You may use it to nourish a favorite house plant, tree or flower garden. Any soil your family doesn’t take home will be spread on a reforestation site on the Olympic Peninsula. No matter what you choose to do, we recommend returning the soil to the earth within a couple of weeks of receipt.

What are the benefits of human composting?

When your loved one’s soil is returned to the earth, it benefits the planet in so many ways. Healthy soil filters water, provides nutrients to plants and animals, sequesters carbon, and helps regulate global temperatures. In short, soil health impacts our air, water, wildlife and landscapes. The impact is an ecological boost that will benefit generations to come

When you work with a Dignity Memorial® provider, any soil a family doesn’t take is sent to a 5-acre site on the Olympic Peninsula. Damaged by years of logging and overgrown with non-native species, the land is now the focus of important conservation projects. A place of natural beauty in need of restoration, it is surrounded by giant maple, red cedar and Douglas fir trees. In time and with effort that includes generous donations of nutrient-rich soil from human composting, it will be revitalized and once again serve as a thriving habitat for plants and wildlife.

How does human composting compare to cremation?

Human composting
eco-leaf icon eco-leaf icon eco-leaf icon

Water cremation
eco-leaf icon eco-leaf icon

Traditional cremation
eco-leaf icon

Completed in a facility powered by renewable electricity

Uses less energy than traditional cremation

Uses less energy and natural resources than burial

Uses 40 gallons of water

Uses 400 gallons of water

Uses no water

Takes 45 days

Takes 4 hours

Takes 2-3 hours

Nutrient-rich soil that can be used for land restoration

Ashes that can be scattered or memorialized

Ashes that can be scattered or memorialized

Memorial service or celebration of life gathering

Memorial service with or without a viewing, or celebration of life

Funeral with a viewing, memorial or celebration of life

How is human composting different from burial?

Burial refers to full-body interment in the ground. Some burials can be performed without a vault or embalming, and caskets can made entirely of organic materials. By contrast, human composting transforms a loved one’s body into soil indoors. The soil can then be returned to the earth.

Can I have a funeral or memorial if I choose human composting?

Absolutely. A celebration of life can take place before, immediately following or long after a loved one’s composting. The flexible timing means families don’t feel rushed to make plans immediately and faraway friends and relatives have time to travel.

We’re experts at creating personalized services for families of all backgrounds. To us, even small things matter—and capturing every detail creates an unforgettable send-off.