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What is Natural Organic Reduction?

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{Read in 5 Minutes}  As a Trusts and Estates attorney, I very often talk to people about making funeral arrangements. Whether it is someone who is planning in advance, in their estate plan by addressing it in their Will, or perhaps signing a funeral directive, or pre-planning their funeral, or whether someone has just died, and the Executor is making final arrangements; it’s a common conversation around the office.

People have been dying for millennia, so how people choose to dispose of their remains is certainly not a new topic. Most notably, burial has been around for thousands of years. Cremation is also something that is very common and has been around for a long while.

In recent years, there has been a push by consumers who are interested in green funerals to have more environmentally friendly options. Their concerns are that burial in a fancy casket, and with embalming fluid in the body, is not very environmentally friendly — and cremation, while significantly greener, does come with a significant carbon footprint given the process involved. Some New Yorkers have gone to nearby jurisdictions where they allow green funerals, where they will wrap your un-embalmed body in a simple bed sheet and bury you in the earth.

However, human composting adds a whole new level to this. Let’s talk about some of the basics. First, what is human composting? Human composting, or natural organic reduction, is as the name would suggest: the process of having a human body biodegrade into a natural form. Here, human composting will turn a human body into roughly one cubic meter of soil (several bags of soil). Depending upon the size of the deceased, it could be up to 100 pounds or more.

The mechanics are as follows: a licensed provider offering natural organic reduction will take the deceased and put them in a composting chamber specifically designed for human bodies. They will add natural material  (usually wood chips, alfalfa sprouts, etc.) Over the course of roughly one to two months, the body will completely decompose into soil. The family or other loved ones can then receive some portion of the soil if they would like to plant a memorial garden for the deceased, and any remaining soil usually goes to state parks for reforestation and conservation purposes.

The cost is not insignificant, meaning that in New York, natural organic reduction costs less than a traditional burial but more than a simple cremation. However, this is speculation on my part. At the time that I’m writing this article (June 2023), there are presently no service providers in the New York City area that offer this service. It is brand new, it takes up a lot of room, and those New Yorkers who have done it already have done so by flying the deceased to states where human composting has been offered for several years (such as Oregon and Washington) at significant cost, and then shipping the soil back home.

This is a rapidly developing area not only in the law (attorneys and Executors deal with the disposition of remains all the time), but also within the funeral industry. Human composting is not for everyone. There are some people who are very jazzed about it, but there are also many people who find it completely repugnant. Like any other choice involving the disposition of one’s remains, it is deeply, deeply personal. However, as of the current date, this is right on the cutting edge of this topic, so I thought it would be interesting to share it here.

If you are interested in doing something like this, but also concerned that the infrastructure is not yet available in New York City, consider discussing it with your attorney. They can write your Will in a manner that addresses the possibility of it. For example, “If practical and available locally at the time of my death, I would prefer natural organic reduction for the disposition of my remains.” Or perhaps, “I direct my Executor to arrange for the disposition of my remains in the most environmentally friendly way allowable and economically feasible at the time of my death.” This will state your wishes while allowing the law and industry to evolve and a market for these services to develop. For more information on this topic, please contact me.