Understanding natural organic reduction and human composting

Disposition Choices

Natural Organic Reduction or Human Composting

Natural organic reduction, terramation and human composting are all synonyms for the same disposition. In this method, the body is placed in a vessel with straw, alfalfa and sawdust, which help the body to quickly decompose into nutrient-rich soil. This process typically takes about 60 days to complete, although the material is permitted to ‘rest’ for an additional 30 days. The resulting nutrient-rich compost can be returned to the family in whole or in part. Material not returned to the family is donated and spread on lands in need of revitalization. 

Is natural organic reduction legal?

Currently, California, Colorado, Nevada,  New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington are the only states in the U.S. where natural organic reduction is legal.

Can I obtain natural organic reduction if it's not legal in my state?

Yes. Although it involves additional expense, you can have your loved one’s remains transported to a provider in a state where it is legal. Additional expenses include charges by both the shipping and receiving providers, as well as actual transport charges. Following the reduction process, the compost can be donated, or any portion of it can be shipped back to the family. 

Is natural organic reduction environmentally friendly?

Yes, natural organic reduction is considered environmentally friendly. There is no casket or outer burial container used, nor does embalming take place. Natural organic reduction also has a smaller carbon footprint than cremation. 

Is natural organic reduction safe?

Yes, natural organic reduction is considered safe. The process takes place in controlled facilities that follow strict guidelines and regulations to ensure dignity, hygiene, and proper handling of the deceased. These facilities prioritize safety measures to prevent the spread of pathogens and ensure a respectful handling of the remains.

What happens to the resulting organic matter?

After the natural organic reduction process is complete, the remaining organic matter, similar to compost, can be used for various purposes. It can be returned to the family, donated for conservation initiatives, or utilized for land restoration projects. It can be used in the same ways any other soil or compost is used.

Can the family participate in or view the process of natural organic reduction?

The level of involvement or witnessing opportunities during the process may vary depending on the facility and provider you work with. It is not uncommon for providers to welcome family for the “laying in” of their loved one, where the deceased is placed into the vessel in which the organic reduction occurs. This typically involves the deceased person wrapped in a shroud of natural fibers, with loved ones invited to place flowers, drawings, letters, or other natural elements in the vessel with their loved one. Then, the vessel is sealed for the process to begin.

Some providers who enable shipping of the deceased to a place where organic reduction is legal, can also provide a ceremony similar to ‘laying in’ before transport takes place. 


Do I need to have my loved one embalmed to ship them to a place where natural organic reduction is legal?

The asnwer will vary depending on where the death takes place and where the deceased needs to be transported to. In general, embalming is not required for shipping, as long as the deceased is shipped in a specialized, leak-proof container. 

The Legal

Natural Organic Reduction is currently legal in California, Colorado, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Several states are considering legislation to enable it.

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