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Human Composting Could Become Green Alternative To Cremation & Burials

DENVER (CBS4) - Colorado could soon become only the second state to legalize a green alternative to cremation and burials. It involves human composting.

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Right now, nearly 80% of Coloradans choose cremation, which releases an estimated one metric ton of carbon dioxide per person. Burials can also have an environmental impact by leaching chemicals into the ground.

"It occurred to me that the very, very last thing I would do on the planet was pollute it," said Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose. It's the first company in the world to offer natural organic reduction - human composting.

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Katrina Spade (credit: CBS)

It involves placing a body in a vessel with straw, alfalfa and woodchips -- the right mix of carbon and nitrogen. Within 30 days, the body turns to soil. Spade says she got the idea from farmers who have composted livestock for decades.

"This used to be a cow," she said holding up a bag of dirt at Feldman Mortuary, where state leaders Rep. Brianna Titone and Sen. Robert Rodriguez announced their plan to introduce legislation that would legalize the process in Colorado.

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"Coloradans love the outdoors and nature, and this is a way for people to keep their close ties with nature even when pass on," said Titone.

Wendy Deboskey, an environmentalist from Denver, likes the idea of her body nourishing the planet.

"I wasn't here before, and I'm not going to be here in the future so I don't want a trace," she said.

Jamie Sarche at Feldman Mortuary predicts a lot of Coloradans will be interested in the process.

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"This is really such a beautiful way for someone to get tucked in and really become earth in a pretty quick way."

Earth that can be used to fertilize a state forest or a home flower garden. Spade says one body creates a cubic yard of dirt (or about 2-3 wheelbarrows).

"You could have that in an urn. You could take that to a specific tree that functions as a living headstone."

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(credit: Recompose)

Spade says Washington State University completed a study last year using the bodies of six volunteers and found the composting process to be safe and effective. She says refrigerating the bodies will still allow families to hold viewings.

The composting process will cost about $5,500, which is more than the typical cremation but less than the typical burial. Spade plans to open her first location in Seattle in the spring of 2021. It will accept bodies from anywhere in the world and vessels will be stacked to take up less space. Funeral homes could also be licensed to offer it.

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