Spotlight: Recompose Life
A Truly Regenerative Investment
Have you ever thought about how you want your body to be handled when you die? Recompose Life is a relatively new company determined to disrupt the multi-billion dollar death industry by offering a new, ecological alternative to the conventional choices of burial and cremation. It’s an option that supports people in making the ultimate regenerative investment: allowing their bodies to participate in the essential, natural cycle of life and death, wherein through death, their personal organic matter can directly benefit the life and health of other organisms.
Recompose has developed a method of Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) that gently converts human remains into roughly one cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil in 30 days. This simple, efficient method is essentially human composting, powered by beneficial microbes that occur naturally in human bodies and in the environment. Recompose’s death care facility houses a honeycomb-like structure containing specially designed “vessels” in which the deceased is laid to rest surrounded by a mixture of wood chips, alfalfa and straw. After the NOR process completes and the remaining soil has time to cure, the deceased’s family can choose to take some or all of their loved one’s soil home, or donate it to support the ecological restoration project of Remember Land, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization stewarding 700 acres of natural wilderness forest in Washington, called Bells Mountain.
In the U.S., approximately 48% of people choose conventional burial, in which caskets, grave liners and embalming prevent natural decomposition, thus polluting soil and robbing it of the organic matter it needs. Each year in the U.S., we bury approximately 30 million board feet of hardwood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and millions of gallons of formaldehyde-laden embalming fluid. Cemeteries take up 1 million acres of land and caskets use 4 million acres of forest every year. As populations continue to grow, urban cemeteries are reaching capacity: Seattle and San Francisco have introduced moratoriums on constructing new cemeteries on urban land. In New York City, most cemeteries have run out of plots to sell.
Many people think cremation is a more ecological alternative to conventional burial, but in truth, the overall negative environmental impact of cremation is about the same. In cremation, a body burns at temperatures of 1,400 to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four hours, requiring the burning of fossil fuels and the release of particulates and carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. In the U.S., cremation emits a shocking 700 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually. That jumps to nearly 4 billion pounds globally when adding in China, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands. As it stands, conventional death care is unsustainable, relies on limited natural resources and contributes to climate change.
In 2012, while still in graduate school, Katrina Spade, CEO and founder of Recompose, began designing a human decomposition option based on the principles of livestock mortality composting used for decades by farmers and agricultural institutions. She sought a greener, more natural way to support the death process particularly in urban settings where space is limited and populations continue to expand. In 2014, with the support of an Echoing Green Fellowship and a Kickstarter campaign, Katrina founded the Urban Death Project, a 501(c) (3) charitable organization that brought together soil scientists, engineers and project managers to help develop what would become the first NOR prototype. The organization performed model human decomposition studies, forged partnerships, generated international media coverage and created a network of supporters which, by 2017, led to the launch of Recompose Life as a Public Benefit Corporation.
Recompose’s NOR process uses one-eighth the energy of cremation and saves more than one metric ton of CO2 emissions per person who chooses it over cremation or burial. Additionally, when human composting transforms the organic material of our bodies, carbon is sequestered into the soil it creates rather than being released as carbon dioxide gas.
Alongside its work to provide ecological death care, Recompose is deeply committed to progressive values and has embedded feminism and anti-racism as key principles that guide the company’s development. Since the company believes that “access to meaningful, sustainable death care is a human right,” a Community Fund program supports families for whom the full price of the Recompose service is a burden. Funded by donations and a portion of Recompose profits, Recompose sets aside 5% of its vessels for community fund recipients.
Today, the company’s almost all-women team has grown to 17 people and 11 advisors, including soil scientist Dr. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs and influencermortician, Caitlin Doughty, whose “Ask a Mortician” channel has garnered 1.74 million YouTube subscribers. Watch her humorous and educational video about Recompose on YouTube!
A critical part of Recompose’s work has been engaging in the political process to lead and support legislation to legalize this natural method of decomposition for humans across the U.S. In 2019, a lobbying campaign led by Recompose resulted in legalization in Washington state—the first state in the U.S. to allow NOR. Colorado and Oregon followed by legalizing the NOR process in 2021. California, Massachusetts and New York are expected to follow soon.
Recompose opened its first facility, The Greenhouse, in Kent, Wash. in December 2020. As of this writing, more than 100 people have chosen Recompose’s NOR services, and the company is currently constructing a second, larger facility in Seattle. The third facility is planned for Denver, Colo., with the search for a location underway now. Recompose is also expanding by offering a way for people to pre-pay for their death care: through Precompose, more than 1,000 members have started to prepay for their death care, representing almost $6 million in future revenue for the company.
Assuming efforts to change legislation across the country is successful, Recompose hopes to open multiple locations nationally, thus becoming a viable ecological death option throughout the U.S., and eventually, the world. See full 2021 Social Impact Report – Natural Investments.
This publication is distributed to clients and friends of Natural Investments, LLC (NI). NI is an investment adviser registered with the SEC. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to contain recommendations or solicit sales of any specific investment. Authors, representatives, or related persons of NI may own securities mentioned in here.