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.

Recently, the Washington state legislature approved a bill which will eventually allow the construction of facilities that offer what some people are referring to as “human composting.” But for now, the Herland Forest offers a similar option. Which is good because death rarely comes at a convenient time or location. If someone is interested in natural organic reduction but lives in a state where that’s not legal, then one option is to have the remains flown to Portland, OR, and we’ll pick them up for transport the Herland Forest.

The goal of the proposed legislation is to offer alternatives to cremation and traditional burial.The official name for the “new” process is “natural organic reduction” which is what Herland Forest is already doing.

The new law defines natural organic reduction as “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains into soil.”  and authorizes the construction of a “natural organic reduction facility” which is defined as a “structure, room, or other space in a building or real property where natural organic reduction of a human body occurs.” Katrina Spade, the leading proponent of urban reduction,  originally described her vision in this way; “Inside a vertical core, bodies and wood chips undergo accelerated natural decomposition, or composting, and are transformed into soil.” Then the combination of composted remains and wood chips would be transported somewhere else for final disposal.

All of that’s possible, but we’d note that it’s easier to transport a two hundred pound body to the forest for burial, than it is to package up and transport a ton of compost to the forest.

Current, Spade is proposing is to process decedents individually in a cluster of patented containers. Here’s a link to the Recompose patent which introduces the use of a “bone crushing auger” to mechanically break down the remains.

In our case, we don’t use a mechanical process to decompose human remains; instead, the conversion is done by the mycological network that is the foundation of a healthy forest.

Instead of a concrete silo or some huge machine, we contain the remains in the earth. That practice allows the subterranean mycological network to reclaim the body’s elements–the phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, potassium, and calcium, etc., that are the essential ingredients the trees need in order to thrive.

Fungi aren’t plants; they don’t have chlorophyll and can’t produce the sugar their cells need in order to live. When the fungi find one of these essential atoms, they bring it to the tree where it’s exchanged for the sugar the subterranean forest needs. The result is that a living forest involves the evolution of an entire “underground” economy, an exchange that plays an essential role in maintaining the forest’s ecological health.

The Process: The remains are laid on a bed of wood chips.

Then, barrels of wood chips are added to completely encase the remains.

Finally, the grave is capped with dirt that was dug from the grave.

One argument for the creation of urban reduction facilities is that it’s better to reduce the remains in a facility than it is to tie up more urban real estate in the form of cemeteries. Herland’s vision is that it’s better to allow the reduction process to occur naturally in the forest, rather than commercially in the city.

Another reason we believe that Herland’s version of “natural organic reduction” is better is the enduring emotional benefit of having a specific place where the remains of a loved one can be visited; something that can function as a “locus of memory”.  When reduction happens in a registered location in the forest, the family will know right where their loved one’s remains are interred. They can visit, camp out, and continue the connection.

We believe that interment in the forest helps protect the forest from being clear cut and “developed” into more urban sprawl. By law, the interment of human remains in a forest protects that forest from commercial development; the application of compost produced in a natural organic reduction facility does not. Those who choose forest burial can sing along with George Fox, saying, “Build those backyards somewhere else, because here I am. There’s no trespassing on this land.”

There’s also the matter of cost. The leading proponent of human composting projects a cost of $5,500 per interment. Assuming that they’re able to meet that projection, and obtain the necessary building permits, that’s still thousands of dollars more than the cost of being interred in green burial cemeteries such as  the Herland Forest.

And my last point would be that natural organic reduction in a concrete silo or some commercial container won’t be legally available until after the law takes effect in May of 2020 and the regulatory agencies work out the various permits needed to address air quality and toxic metal issues. As a result, it’s unlikely that the first commercial urban facilities would be able to go into operation before some time in 2021.

Fortunately, Herland Forest is receiving remains now.