Illinois should legalize human composting


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The sun shining through a tree in a meadow. Human composting offers another form of after-death service that involves being one with earth’s soil.

By Lucy Atkinson, Opinion Columnist

Illinois Congress should pass the bill to legalize natural organic reduction, or human composting. Think the circle of life, not the woodchipper scene from “Fargo.” 

Proposed by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, the bill was recently passed by the Illinois House of Representatives. Should it pass the Senate, Illinois will become the seventh state to legalize the procedure. 

Human composting is a method of after-death service, such as cremation or traditional burial practices, and it works precisely as it sounds. 

The details of the procedure vary depending on the facility employed. However, most human composting companies provide family members with the same result: about one cubic yard of soil. 

America’s first human composting organization Recompose explains the process takes about eight to 12 weeks total, between a decomposing and drying stage. 

“Recompose places each body into a stainless steel vessel along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Microbes that naturally occur on the plant material and on and in our bodies power the transformation into soil,” according to Recompose’s website. 

While the process is dependent on electrical energy, and therefore not entirely without environmental consequences, human composting pushes for “greener” after-death decisions.

The cremation of one body, for instance, can release 573 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to a 2016 research study by Trinity University. Traditional burial takes up land space and can cause damage to soil quality.

Human composting, however, slows the carbon-emission process by sequestering carbon in the soil and creating fertile, rich soil filled with the nutrients ideal for plant life. The procedure in total releases 87% less carbon than cremation, according to Recompose. 

While Neil Blackstone, a professor in the biological sciences department at NIU, notes the logistical downsides of human composting, he said he ultimately supports the bill. Blackstone’s only true critique is the procedure’s unsettling name. 

“If people want to do it, what’s the harm? I mean, as long as, you know, people realize that you don’t put a dead body out in your backyard to compost,” Blackstone said. 

Most critics of human composting today, in fact, are not concerned that the procedure doesn’t do enough to combat greenhouse gas emissions or even that it is too costly. Financially, the method is $5,500 on average, compared to the $8,755 average of burial and $6,260 average of cremation, according to Funeral Funds of America.

Rather, opposers such as the Catholic Church argue that human composting is undignified. 

“Turning human persons into compost for the purpose of fertilization of trees, as one would with vegetable trimmings and eggshells, degrades the human person,” according to Catholic Conference of Illinois

Returning to the Earth should not be so heavily stigmatized. The decomposition of our bodies is not a process we should be afraid of. Joining the soil is one of the few realities we share with every other organism on the planet. 

After all, soil is what brings the food we eat and covers the ground we walk on while we are alive. 

When initial disturbances are cast aside, human composting can be viewed as a beautiful concept: perhaps your final contribution to the Earth will help a flower to grow or foster the seed of an infant tree. 

Surely there’s more dignity in celebrating decomposition than in unnecessarily regulating one of the final decisions our loved ones will make for us.