You can now have your body composted after you die in New York. Here’s how it works and why it’s greener.

A dummy body, just before the start of composting.redial

  • New York recently became the sixth state to legalize post-mortem body composting.

  • The procedure turns your leftovers into soil that loved ones can use to grow a plant.

  • Experts say it’s a greener alternative to traditional burials. Here’s how it works.

It was an unusual way to mark the new year: On December 31, 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul approved a bill making New York the sixth US state to allow body composting.

Also known as natural organic reduction, the process turns your body into soil that loved ones can use to grow plants.

We asked Recompose, a Washington-based natural organic service, how it works and why the process is greener than a traditional burial.

Katrina Spade, CEO of Recompose, holds a putty containing soil from the decomposition process.

This pot contains the earth equivalent of a body.Mat Hayward/Getty Images to Recompose

A step-by-step guide to turning your body into dirt

Just because it’s been legalized doesn’t mean you’re going to start seeing bodies piling up in your backyard compost. The body must be processed by a certified biological reduction facility.

Here’s how it works at Recompose, according to their website.

The whole point of the process is to encourage the efficient breakdown of the body. It is therefore important that nothing inorganic is added to the chamber.

Two young men and two older women lay flowers on a dummy body wrapped in a yellow shroud resting on wood shavings, which is about to be loaded into a circular decay pod.

Four people gather around the dummy body in a fake burial ceremonyMat Hayward/Getty Images to Recompose

For this reason, there is no embalming, the body is simply wrapped in organic cotton.

Family members place straw over the body of the deceased in this mock ceremony.

A mock burial ceremony at Recompose.Mat Hayward/Getty Images to Recompose

Relatives can place flowers or other organic material with the body before it is transferred to the composting area.

The composting pods are presented here.  They are circular interlocking in a hexagonal pattern, similar to a beehive.

Composting pods. Each pod would contain a body.redial

Composting takes place in these futuristic hexagonal chambers. The body is placed on a bed of organic material and covered with wood shavings, alfalfa and straw.

A composting capsule filled and ready for composting is shown.  It is circular and filled with wood shavings.

A composting pod is shown.redial

It remains in the chamber for 30 days. During this time, the bacteria in the chamber break down the body and other organic matter.

Air is pumped into the chamber at controlled temperature and humidity. The vessel rotates steadily to create the perfect environment for the body to degrade.

A body covered in organic material is loaded into a circular basket.

The body is placed in the Threshold Vessel.Mat Hayward/Getty Images to Recompose

At the end of the process, only dirt remains. Any inorganic medical implants that the person may have had in their lifetime are removed. A few bone fragments may remain, which are crushed and returned to the ground.

A small flowerpot with the Recompose logo is shown two-thirds full of soil.

This pot contains the earth equivalent of a body.Mat Hayward/Getty Images to Recompose

The floor is then tested for safety and left to dry. In six to eight weeks, the body is transformed into about a square foot of usable ground, which relatives can pick up, or it can be deposited in a nearby forest.

The process costs $7,000, according to Recompose. That’s comparable to the price of a traditional burial, costing an average of $7,848 for a funeral and $6,970 for a cremation, according to the National Association of Funeral Directors’ 2021 survey.

Bells Mountain Forest is shown.  A verdant landscape dotted with pine trees is depicted in the foreground, with mountains appearing in the distance.

Bells Mountain Forest is a permanently protected wilderness. Bells Mountain stewards use soil donated by Recompose.redial

This approach is more environmentally friendly than traditional burials

So it’s more environmentally friendly than other burial methods? Yes — mostly, says an expert who was commissioned by Recompose to study its carbon footprint.

Troy Hottle, an environmental sustainability and life cycle assessment analyst, estimated the cost of each step of the process involving composting, cremation and traditional casket burials.

Insider hasn’t seen the details of that study, but Hottle said that based on his calculations, composting should expend less greenhouse gases than other, more traditional burial services.

“Tons of natural gas are used for cremation. And the body itself is burned, so the carbon from the body is also released into the atmosphere,” he said.

Embalming before cremation can also increase the cost, and this also depends on the type of casket used before cremation. But at least in this scenario, the ashes don’t take up space.

A Victorian graveyard has concrete headstones covered in moss and plants.

A cemetery in Charleston, USA.Martina Birnbaum/EyeEm/Getty Images

When it comes to traditional coffin burials, the coffin, the embalming, the concrete used to make the plot, and the upkeep of the grounds all add to the carbon cost of the plot, he said.

But there are also less carbon intensive parts of the burial. Headstones add to the carbon footprint, as they are usually transported from afar and can break during their journey.

The land that is used for the plot also adds to the carbon cost, especially in heavily urbanized areas, Hottle said.

“If you replace farmland or something in the suburbs of the city to have a burial place, all of a sudden you’ve pushed your limits for warehouses or workplaces or where food must be cultivated,” he said.

This means that people have to travel farther and food is transported from farther.

Composting is most of the time, but not always, a greener solution

Recompose the finished material

The finished product looks like this.USM Communications

“Composting, by freeing up this land, can not only be environmentally friendly, but also a good way to prevent this urbanization from spreading,” he said.

Of course, it’s a well-known fact that backyard composting can release methane, a greenhouse gas that’s about three times more potent than CO2.

“You hear about people doing home composting and they don’t do it very well, and it stinks,” he said.

“An anaerobic situation would generate methane, uh, that’s where you get kind of the stench,” he said.

But Hottle says in this case there is no risk of that happening.

At Recompose, the body is turned regularly and the chamber is ventilated to prevent bacteria from being trapped in an airless environment. This is what prevents the generation of methane.

Still, Hottle says composting might not always be the greenest option, depending on where you are.

A green ground burial, for example, where the body is simply laid in the dirt without a headstone, may then be a much better option, especially if there is no competition for farmland or houses.

“If someone like me lives in North Carolina and I want the greenest burial possible, and I’m like, ‘Ship my body to Seattle so I can be composted at Recompose,’ that wouldn’t be a good option,” he said. said.

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