A 50,000-square-foot warehouse in a gray, nondescript building in Montebello was vacant Thursday, but by the middle of next year it will be converted into the Denver-area’s newest and largest facility where human corpses can be composted.
The building will contain venues where families can hold celebrations for loved ones, and design gathering spaces that highlight the woodlands and woodlands around Colorado. The walls will be painted in muted colors and families can choose to play music that their loved ones enjoy. There will also be a separate area with ships and equipment where composting will take place.
The idea is that while composting is systematic, industrial, and even utilitarian, says Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, there is also tenderness involved in the process. Washington-based Recompose will lease the warehouse located at 5400 Joliet St.
Colorado legislature The law passed last year That made the natural organic reduction of humans — fertilization — a legal option for postmortem care. Human remains can be turned into soil and used for agriculture (as long as they are not used as food for human consumption) or donated to conservation efforts. The company that started this way of acting after death in Washington is now bringing its operations to Denver, adding to the movement to make this option more popular for Colorados.
Spade helped Colorado’s post-mortem operators work to pass the legislation, making it the second in the country to do so. Since then, others have followed suit, including most recently California.
About 10 years ago, Spade had been contemplating her own death and wanted to find a more sustainable way to dispose of human bodies after death. Unlike green landfills, the system she devised speeds up the process, using plant matter, microbes and heat to turn a person into roughly a truck bed of soil in a month. The material is then screened to remove inorganic matter and remnants of bone fragments, then cured for two to four weeks and the soil dried.
“I never wanted it to be just a niche option or available to a few people,” Spade said. “My dream is for this to be a default option for people (so that) you don’t even have to think too much about it because it benefits the planet, and it’s respectable and I think it’s beautiful.”
Spade envisions that the facility will eventually have 200 vessels set up to turn cadavers into soil (50 initially), and each vessel can hold up to one person per month. The ratio of alfalfa to wood chips to hay varies depending on a person’s makeup, and microbes break down the body. The Denver facility will be an option for people closest to Colorado in other states who won’t have to send bodies to Washington or other states that may be far away. Fifteen percent of the customers who sent bodies to be reconstituted in Washington were from other states, Spade said.
Colorado began offering people an option to turn their bodies into soil in the state last year — The Natural Funeral began composting corpses in September of last year for four funeral homes in Colorado and six funeral homes outside the state. 34 people underwent the Arvada operation, 28 of them from Colorado, according to co-owner Seth Vidal. The facility contains 24 fully functional receptacles and 15 treatment boxes (where the soil after decomposition goes to dry and sifted through bones and other fragments).
Natural Funeral also offers green burials, cremations, and water cremations.
Vidal said the process at Natural Funeral works a little differently than Recompose and the other operators, because it uses no mechanical or electrical accelerators and no heat, just plant matter and fermented bio-compost tea. That’s why this process takes three to four months or so.
Anthony Levitt of Wheat Ridge said he sent his husband, Jake’s body, to Washington in October last year, before the operation in Colorado became easy to access. Leavitt with Feldman Mortuary in Colorado and Return Home in Washington.
Jake Levitt was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer in 2019 and began researching postmortem care options. At first, he thought he wanted to cremate his body before discovering the negative effects on the environment.
When Levitt heard about the new law in Colorado, he told his husband that it was what he wanted. But that’s where the conversation ended – they wanted to spend the rest of their time together living in the moment. So after Jake Levitt’s death, Anthony Levitt started calling people in Washington to see how he could get Jake’s body there.
It was perfect — Jake loved gardening, getting his hands in the dirt, being outside, and generally making the world more beautiful, his husband said.
After Jake was transported to Washington and undergoes the composting process, some of the soil was sent to Anthony and his family, while the rest was donated for preservation. Anthony plans to put some of that soil into the cacti plants Jake has planted and then give it to family and friends. He also plans to go back to California where Jake came and plant some trees in his honor.
“It was the most important solution for Jake, and for me, that was all that mattered,” he said. “He didn’t want to be a burden on this planet. He didn’t want to be a burden on future generations. He didn’t want to hang his body on the ground so that it could not be used.”
Anthony noted that it helped that it was an affordable option, under $8,000—something Jake appreciated.
“I would have paid anything to take care of Jake,” Anthony said. “But the fact that it was so economical was a shock.”
Alkaline hydrolysis, or water cremation, costs about $4,500, and cremation $3,000 and up. Burials are more expensive, depending on the purchases of the cemetery plot.
Anthony said that both Anthony and Jake are normal people, but Jake would have loved knowing that his story helps others. Now, Anthony plans to use this option after his death as do other friends and family members.
Vidal, who was part of the group calling for the state’s legislation to be passed, said he was excited about Recompose coming to Denver, adding that it “represents a great deal of progress in terms of public awareness because they are a nationally recognized force in this area of natural shorthand, there is a lot of Look at them and what they’re doing.”
“I think that will enable more Colorados to choose natural shorthand,” Vidal said.
Feldman Mortuary is one of the Funeral Homes in Colorado that has contracts with Viddal. Two people have gone through it for human composting and about a dozen pre-arranged for this method, said Jamie Sarchi, director of funeral pre-planning and aftercare.
Sarche said she is happy that this option is available, particularly because of the misconception that cremation is environmentally friendly — it is not and actually ends up in tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
“With green burial, we don’t add any chemicals to the ground, and it’s composting, and it’s a very natural way to take care of the body,” Sarchi said.
Sarch said people should start planning in advance for after-death options, and she is happy to Reconfigure and others to make this available to Coloradans.
“The more people who start doing it, the better off,” she said. “And our land needs us to take better care of it. The less cremation we do, the better off our land will be.”