Colorado Composts Its First Human Remains

The state legalized biological decomposition of human remains, also known as ‘natural reduction,’ last year

Composted human remains with a cello player in the background at a laying out ceremony
Colorado's first laying out ceremony of human remains that were composted. Denver EOL Doula, LLC via Facebook

A funeral home in Colorado laid to rest the first composted human remains following the state's legalization of the process last year, reports 9News' Marc Sallinger. 

"It’s a very special time," said Ben Martin with The Natural Funeral as he addressed ceremony attendees on Sunday, per the news outlet. "It's a very special first-in-Colorado moment."

The Natural Funeral is a holistic funeral home and cremation service provider, per its website. It was the first company in Colorado to offer body composting, also called “natural reduction,” per 9News. 

Bodies are composted using a similar process as other organic material, Seth Viddal of The Natural Funeral says in a webinar. The body is placed in a wooden vessel with layers of wood chips, alfalfa and straw to help it break down.

“We start with wood chips making the base,” Viddal explains in the webinar. “There’s a lot of proprietary microbial activity that’s taking place inside these chips…They’re inoculated with certain bacteria, with certain enzymes and certain fungi.” 

Next, a layer of alfalfa is placed on the woodchips, which provides heat for the microbes, followed by a layer of straw. The body is then put in the vessel, with another layer of straw, alfalfa and woodchips. 

“We’re not pouring toxic embalming fluids or anything that might be harmful to the earth. We’re really honoring the earth and saying thank you,” Martin tells Fox31’s Rachel Saurer. “Thank you, body. Thank you, Earth. Here’s some nourishment.”

After the composting is complete, about a cubic yard of soil remains, which is returned to the family or donated to farms. Colorado law prohibits using the soil to grow food for human consumption. It also prohibits selling the soil or co-mingling of remains without the deceased person’s consent, unless the soil is abandoned.

Green funeral companies say natural reduction offers eco-friendly advantages over other traditional burials or cremations because it doesn’t emit as much carbon or fumes from cremation. 

“Cremation takes 30 gallons of fuel and pumps about 540 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, so we've devised a system that runs about 90 per cent cleaner than that, ” Micah Truman, CEO of Return Home, a green funeral home in Washington, tells Ben Anthony Horton of Euronews. “We use a base of organics where the body is placed, and we simply close the lid. The heat keeps the microbial activity super active and at the end of a month, our body is pretty much transformed completely."

The Colorado man’s body was laid in its vessel in September on the fall equinox. Viddal originally thought the composting process would take about a year, but he's finding it may be closer to three months, he says in the webinar.

At the ceremony on Sunday, the soil was mixed with wildflower seeds and native grass seeds. 

"The cycle of life is truly going to continue as a result of what is happening today," Viddal says to 9News. "More than anything, this proves that we can do this. That this can be very meaningful to families. That this can be a very sacred way to deal with a loved one following loss."