Human composting facilities offer a unique burial option in Colorad

Katrina Spade in...
Katrina Spade at the newly rented 50,000-square-foot facility for Environmental Death Care in Denver, Colorado on Thursday, October 20, 2022. The Colorado legislature passed a law allowing people to be composted after their death in the state, following in Washington’s footsteps. (Photo by Hyung Chang/The Denver Post)

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).

Seth Vidal fills the bowl with...
Seth Vidal fills a bowl with straw, soil, and organic matter, as part of the process of composting the body, at the natural funeral in Arvada, Colorado on Friday, October 21, 2022. The Colorado legislature passed a law that would allow people to be composted after they die in the state, Washington style. (Photo by Hyung Chang/The Denver Post)

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.

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