Recompose, “Humusation” as an emerging alternative to burial and cremation

By Susanne Duijvestein, sustainable funeral director at Bijafscheid

What if, after this life, you can be food for new life? What if plants, trees, micro-organisms and small animals thrive thanks to your remains? Being the the first in the world, Washington State allowed humusation starting from April 2019: human composting into fertile humus for the creation of infinite new life cycles. Also in Belgium, experiments are being conducted around the natural alternative to burial and cremation. Are you interested in living on forever?

Buried or cremated

Of all living things on the earth, the human man is the only species trying to escape the decomposition process. In nature this is inevitable: the dead body decomposes and is assisted by bacteria, fungi, insects, scavenging mammals and birds. A colorful collection of life that benefits from death, all enjoying their own part of the table, all useful.

In addition to nature, there is culture. For ritual, emotional and hygienic reasons, humanity has a long tradition in burials and cremating. After all, with so many people on the planet, it is best when dead human bodies are not scattered around decomposing out in the open. It would make us sick, so we had to think of something. The options: under the ground or burn.

Interestingly, over the course of history, we we introduced the coffin. As a result, we excluded nature from the decomposition process. On top of that burying is taking place so deep—six feet under the groundwhere there is hardly any soil life left, so our bodies are not absorbed by nature anymore.

So burial and cremation are the world’s main forms of funerals, but certainly not everywhere. In the high mountains of Tibet, China and Iran, for example, due to the cold and lack of trees, it is a practical necessity to give the body back to nature to be eaten by the vultures. But back to humusation: what kind of an alternative does this promise to be?