Have you ever wondered how you can be more environmentally conscious even in death? In some states, you can, by being composted. Seth Viddal and one of his employees have built a “vessel they hope will usher in a more environmentally friendly era of mortuary science that includes the natural organic reduction of human remains, also known as body composting.”
According to Viddal, who compared the process to backyard composting of food scraps and yard waste, “It’s a natural process where the body is returned to an elemental level over a short period of time. . .This is the same process but done with a human body inside of a vessel, and in our case, in a controlled environment.”
On Sept. 7, Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow human body composting. Oregon will allow the practice beginning next July. In Washington, the three businesses licensed to compost human remains have transformed at least 85 bodies since the law took effect in May 2020, and more than 900 people have signed up for the service as natural funerals become more popular.
Viddal, who co-owns The Natural Funeral in Lafayette, lobbied the Colorado legislature for the option and started building a prototype vessel in an industrial area soon after the bipartisan bill was signed into law. Based on a design being used in Washington, the insulated wooden box is about 7 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep, lined with waterproof roofing material and packed with wood chips and straw. Two large spool wheels on either end allow it to be rolled across the floor, providing the oxygenation, agitation, and absorption required for a body to compost.
Viddal calls the process an “exciting ecological option,” and in death, he also sees life. “Composting itself is a very living function and it’s performed by living organisms. … There are billions of microbial, living things in our digestive tracts and just contained in our body. And when our one life ceases, the life of those microbes does not cease,” he said.
After about three months, the vessel is opened and the “soil” is filtered for medical devices like prosthetics, pacemakers, and things of that nature. The remaining large bones are then pulverized and returned to the vessel for another three months of composting. Teeth are removed to prevent contamination from mercury in fillings. The vessel must reach 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 Celsius) for 72 continuous hours to kill any bacteria and pathogens. The high temperature occurs naturally during the breakdown of the body in an enclosed box.
In six months, the body, wood chips, and straw will transform into enough soil to fill the bed of a pickup truck. Family members can keep the soil to spread in their yards, but Colorado law forbids selling it and using it commercially to grow food for human consumption and only allows licensed funeral homes and crematories to compost human bodies.
Would you consider body composting? Get more information here.
Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more. We are currently offering free consultations via video conference to assist you with your needs.
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