Natural Organic Reduction
aka “Human Composting”

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Note: If you live outside of the Pacific Northwest and are interested in natural organic reduction in the immediate future, please contact us about interstate transport options.

In 2019, the Washington state legislature approved a bill which authorizes the use of Natural Organic Reduction as an approved means of disposition of human remains. In June of 2020, Herland Forest Cemetery became the first facility in the US to be licensed to provide this means of disposition.

Herland Forest is an outgrowth of the Windward Education and Research Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit  that works to develop and demonstrate sustainable practices. With more than 30 years of experience in the use of forest products to transform the remains of farm large animals into nutrient rich compost, we undertook to apply that knowledge and experience to the challenge of naturally reducing human remains.

Herland Forest’s NOR process uses an insulated coffin configured as a cradle to perform the initial reduction. As any gardener knows, effective composting requires turning, and the cradle is designed so that it can be rotated at appropriate intervals. No industrial equipment is needed; just a pair of hands.

The floor of the cradle is prepared with a bed of wood chips and wild flowers gathered from the surrounding forest. After the deceased is laid to rest in the cradle, more wood chips are added (some 200 gallons in all) and the lid is secured.

preparing a cradle for use

Herland Forest’s NOR process uses solar energy from photovoltaic panels to power a high-temperature composting process that’s informed by the work done by the University of California at Berkeley. By operating between 160 and 165°F, NOR accelerates the natural breakdown of human remains into soil.

NOR’s cradle is designed as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The elevated oxygen level supports the rapid growth of the bacteria, protozoa and fungi that perform the actual decomposition. The elevated oxygen level not only supports these organisms, but it reduces the amount of methane that would otherwise be generated during decomposition.

The NOR process is designed to convert the methane that would otherwise be given off by organic decomposition into carbon dioxide. Our facility is located in a forest which absorbs and uses the carbon dioxide to grow more trees.

After the initial decomposition phase is complete, the cradle is opened and any medical waste such as a hip replacement or pacemake is removed and recycled.

Then the reduced remains are packaged into four open-top, food grade 55 gallon drums to undergo a secondary reduction process that is similar to the way that wine is transferred to barrels and aged. Since death comes when it comes, and since Herland Forest’s NOR process is an off-grid process that is designed to operate within the natural seasonal rhythm, the timing of the process is dependent on nature; it goes faster in summer than it does in winter.

Accordingly, Herland Forest stores the barrels containing the reduced remains for up to a year. That way people who want to use the reduced remains on their own property can pick up the reduced remains at a time of year that is conducive to their needs and situation. If the family wants to only utilize a portion of the reduced remains exceeds, the remaining portion will be used to plant a tree in the Herland Forest.

Washington State does not allow people to be buried on private land, but under the new law, remains reduced by natural organic reduction can be spread on private land with the owner’s permission. The goal of Herland Forest’s NOR facility is to carry out the reduction process in a manner which respects both the wishes of the individual and needs of the environment.

For more details on what’s involved, you can access a copy of the Natural Organic Reduction Disposition Authorization form by Clicking Here.