In the United States, a movement promotes eco-responsible funerals thanks to “human compost”

Kent | A woodpecker perched on a branch while Cindy Armstrong stared at a piece of land that was her former child.

She smiled as she remembered that the young man, stricken with cancer, wanted to compost his lips to have new life.

This desire is part of a movement that is campaigning for more sustainable funerals in the United States.


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Cindy Armstrong remembers the moment her son told her she wanted “humusation” (a neologism taken from the word “humus”, the top layer of soil, editor’s note) after Washington, in the western United States , became the first U.S. state in 2019. to legalize this alternative to cremation.

“I was mortified,” he recalls. “But now that I have gone through the process, I am really in favor of it. I will be humus. ”

Her son’s composted remains went along with others used to restore a hillside to downtown Kent, near Seattle. A former source of drug addicts, the slope was once full of gutted vehicles, sometimes full of bullets.


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“She wanted to go back to nature,” Ms Armstrong said of her son Andrew, who died at the age of 36.

The land is owned by start-up Return Home, which has completed 40 humus since launching in nearby Auburn 7 months ago.


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“Better to die”

“It’s like these people are teaching us how to die better,” said Return Home founder and boss Micah Truman, as he toured a spacious room filled with rows of large metal containers, which called “vessels”.

The room is bright and lively music is playing. Loved ones, who visit during the 60-day decomposition process, can choose songs that celebrate the presence of those who have lost them.


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Bodies are not embalmed to prevent the use of chemicals. Families are invited to put flowers or biodegradable materials in the straw and other natural ingredients.

The amount of organic matter added is almost three times greater than the weight of the human body, making it possible to produce hundreds of kilograms of compost.


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Sensors that monitor humidity, temperature and air flow are synchronized with a computer to optimize the decomposition process.

In the middle, the seeds are removed and ground into small grains before being returned to the container to be composted.

The final product has the appearance and consistency of regular compost.


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Families can keep as long as they want, with others being used to restore the edge of the hill.

Local city plans prohibit any construction on land.

Green funeral

For Edward Bixby, president of the Green Burial Council, this process is “about returning to earth when we arrived”.

“We’re dust, we’re back to dust,” describes Mr. Bixby, who opened the first cemetery for natural burials in New Jersey 5 years ago and has since spread to ten U.S. states.


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The Green Burial Council, which he heads, brings together more than 400 companies dedicated to these green burials, including some outside the United States.

According to this organization, a single cremation requires as much fuel as the tank of an SUV and the bodies turned to ash produce greenhouse gases.

Return Home services are charged $ 5,000, roughly the same as the cremation price. It is necessary to count double or triple for traditional funerals.

It is possible that the body was wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or placed in a wooden box and then buried.

Californian start-up Coeio sells a funeral garment that contains mycelium, which is supposed to “neutralize toxins from the human body and transfer nutrients to flora”.

Green funerals are part of a natural approach to death, advocates say.

“People started to be scared to death and die because of horror movies and things like that,” Mr Bixby said. “We always tend to take care of our loved ones after their death, we just forget about it.”

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