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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Current Trends - Human Composting & Aquamation - Episode 97

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another episode of Legal Tea! Today’s topic is a current trend … on this type of episode, we dive into something going on in the current time or that I’ve stumbled across on the news or social media, that is pertinent to my little estate and elder law world. Well, today’s episode is going to be one that may make some people a little squirmy. Not in a bad way. Just some people don’t super love talking about it. We’re going to be talking about human composting and aquamation, which are two new-ish alternatives to what happens to us, like our bodies, after we pass away. Now, before we get started, what’s the saying – “Nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” Or something like that, right? Well, unless someone out there has a magic pill they’re not sharing that makes us live forever, we’re all going to die. And if you’re not considering what your wishes are post-death, eventually, you should. Period, end of story.

So, on this whole human composting and aquamation topic, what even made me think about it to bring up on the podcast was that I have a client that has asked me to incorporate into his document that he wants his body composted when he passes away – and when he said that, I was like, “What did you say?!” Well, to be honest, I had never heard of it, so he took a few minutes and explained it to me. So, fast forward a few days, I was in a team-wide meeting with my entire team and I casually mentioned my client and human composting – and one of the other attorneys said, “Well I have a client that wants to do aquamation!” Again, I was like, “WHAT?!” And then, if those occurrences weren’t enough, remember the friend I talked about last “current trends” episode that runs a blog and does some influencing on social media, TwoTwentyOne, well, I kid you not – she shared something on her Instagram page about aquamation. I was like, “Okay, these are hitting me in the face too many times recently to NOT do a Legal Tea episode on it!” So here we are…

Let’s tackle them one-by-one because while they both deal with “what happens” to a body after the person passes away, they are very, very different things and methods. Human composting, first…

According to US, human composting is “an accelerated method of human decomposition. It is scientifically referred to as National Organic Reduction. The body is placed in a steel container along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Oxygen and heat are applied to the container to speed the process of decomposition.” If you go to the source links for this episode, you’ll find the link to the website and on the website, there are some pictures of what this looks like. Kind of cool, if you want to check it out! Anyway, the process in total usually takes about 30-45 days from start to finish. The same website continues with its description by sharing, “The contents of the cylinder are blended regularly through the process to help break up remaining bone fragments. When the body is fully composted, the cylinder produces one cubic yard of soil. Any inorganic medical implants are removed from the soil.” Therefore, as you probably gather, the attraction to this method is that it is a natural and eco-friendly option.

As you may be wondering, this is a rather new form of death care – and because of its newness, human composting is not legal in every state yet. The state of Washington first legalized it in 2019. After Washington made it legal, a number of other states started jumping on board. Since this is really being left up to the states to decide, every state is handling the issue in their own manner and timing. I found a website on that is tracking the progress of states dealing with human composting that I’ll link in the source links for the episode. Currently, as of the date of this episode, nineteen states have either introduced legislation or passed legislation on human composting. And, of those nineteen, they are, sort of, all over the place. Like, for example, California has passed the bill, but it won’t take effect until 2027. Hawaii was one I counted because they introduced legislation, but the bill did not pass. So, it’s a no-go there right now. Since this podcast is based out of Indiana, I like to drop tidbits about Indiana when I can – Indiana is not one of the nineteen. Nothing has been proposed here.

Before we shift to aquamation, here are a couple final things I wanted to mention about human composting. First, I wanted to touch on “how” human composting is technically a more eco-friendly option – as US Funerals website shares, human composting claims to use 1/8 of the energy that a flame cremation uses – additionally, flame cremation produces so much carbon dioxide, that it’s equivalent to burning 800,000 barrels of oil for a single individual. That is crazy! I had no idea of that. The second thing I wanted to briefly touch on is the topic and how it’s been received by various religious factions – US Funerals website shares that there has been a “less enthusiastic response from certain factions who perceive [human composting] as rather gruesome and icky. The Catholic Church has denounced human composting as “disrespectful” which was a similar reaction they originally made to the introduction of cremation.”

So, human composting is definitely an idea, a topic that is new and slowly getting embraced – I’m sure at some point in the future, it’ll simply be just another option available for post-death body care. Anyway, let’s shift to aquamation…

Let’s start with what it is – According to Bio-Response Solutions, which is a company in the aquamation space, aquamation is a “method of final disposition” with “scientific name for the water-based process is alkaline hydrolysis. It is the same process that occurs as part of nature’s course when a body is laid to rest in the soil. A combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity are used to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials.” Want to hear something kind of cool about the company, Bio-Response Solutions? I merely started researching aquamation and found their website to be super helpful. Well, I started mosey’ing around their website and they’re based in Indiana, which like I said is where this podcast is based out of. Specifically, in Danville, Indiana which is super, super close to where I’m from. What a small world we live in!

Anyway, so aquamation is something provided for humans and pets! For pets, aquamation is approved to be utilized everywhere in the United States. Though, for humans, it’s not necessarily approved everywhere – it’s approved more than human composting! What was human composting – like 18 or 19 states so far? Well, aquamation is approved, so far, according to Bio-Responses’ website, in 28 states – Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. That was a mouthful! I wanted to name drop them, though, because I have Legal Tea Listeners all over, so if you heard your state, there you go!

The entire start-to-finish aquamation process takes about 6-8 hours at 300 degrees or 18-20 at 200 degrees, depending on the temperature of the aquamation equipment, which is significantly quicker than human composting (which I guess that totally makes sense). To compare, flame cremation is 1-3 hours and at about 1600-1800 degrees temperature. Furthermore, like human composting, aquamation is becoming a more-and-more popular options for body care after we pass away because it’s incredibly more eco-friendly. As Bio-Response’ website shares, “there are no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury to the atmosphere. The process does not burn any fossil fuels and it is very energy efficient – greater than 90% energy savings compared to flame cremation, with 1/10th of the carbon footprint.” You can definitely see that these new alternatives promote this idea of being friendly to our environment – which really speaks to a lot of people.

Another similarity between human composting and aquamation, which I super quickly mentioned when I was blabbing about human composting, is that neither require removal of pacemakers or any other battery operated medical implant – which is a huge benefit because with flame cremation, those must be removed prior to the process starting (which sometimes requires the family and/or estate to incur extra fees to “remove” the pacemaker and/or other battery operated medical implant). With human composting and aquamation, it’s a non-issue because both methods allow for such medical devices to be recovered/recycled at the end of the human composting or aquamation process. That even includes metal implants – as Bio Responses’ website shares, the “metals are clean, sterilized, and look brand new after the process. Metals are recycled through a metal refiner to be made into new materials.” Supposedly, the metal implants post-flame cremation and post-aquamation are like night and day. Bio Response even have pictures on the website of metals post-flame cremation and post-aquamation, if you care to check it out!

As I wrap this episode up, I think the topic for this episode is exactly why I like doing this podcast. It forces me, as an attorney, to research into fields that directly or indirectly relate to my estate/elder law field – It makes me stay on top of issues, current things like human composting and aquamation, which ultimately makes me a better attorney to my clients! Alrighty, I’m out of time, friends, so let’s wrap this episode up -- next week’s topic is on estate planning of the rich and the famous – on that episode, we’re going to dive into what happened estate-wise following the passing of someone that’s not super well-known, but she was quite wealthy. Her name is Leona Helmsley and why I’m so excited to dive into her estate is because she supposedly left a huge chunk of change in trust for her … doggy. For her dog. And I love that. So yeah - We will dive into that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Talk to you then and stay well!


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