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Colorado lays to rest first legally composted human remains

The unnamed person elected to have their body transformed into soil. State law prohibits the mixing of remains and the commercial sale of the soil.

A funeral home laid to rest Colorado's first legally composted human remains Sunday, less than a year after the state legalized the process as a greener alternative to cremation and traditional burial.

The weekend ceremony was to lay to rest the person who was reported to be the first in the state to use the process of converting human bodies into soil, known as "natural reduction," according to The Natural Funeral, a Colorado funeral services provider.

Dozens of people spread the soil at the newly dedicated Colorado Burial Preserve, about 40 miles south of Colorado Springs. Before Sunday's ceremony, non-embalmed remains were often laid to rest in hand-dug graves set in a natural prairie landscape.

The remains of the first person to be composted were spread out in a ceremony in Fremont County, Colo., on March 20, 2022, after the process was made legal last year.
The remains of the first person to be composted were spread out in a ceremony Sunday in Fremont County, Colo. The process was made legal last year.KUSA

About six months ago, the remains of the first person in the state to choose natural reduction were placed in an air-filtered chamber with wood chips, alfalfa, straw and “a lot of microbial beings.” That began a natural digestion and conversion process that took six months, said Seth Viddal, the managing partner at The Natural Funeral.

One body makes about a pickup truck bed’s worth of soil, NBC affiliate KUSA of Denver reported.

In May Gov. Jared Polis signed into law a bill legalizing natural reduction, which advocates in the state pitched as a more environmentally friendly way to die.

The law "prohibits the soil of multiple people to be combined without their permission, for the soil to be used to grow food for human consumption or for it to be sold," KUSA reported.

The Natural Funeral said its process has “no appreciable carbon emissions or release of toxic fumes in contrast to flame cremation” and does not “take up any real estate as a conventional burial might.”

“We see Body Composting as the express lane for a body to rejoin the cycle of life,” it wrote.

Viddal said that most interest in the process thus far had come from the Denver and Boulder metro areas but that three of the 15 sets of remains interred at the facility came from out of the state. The vast majority of states have not legalized the process.

Washington was the first state to legalize natural reduction.

The first Colorado family to use legal composting in the state chose to have their loved one's composted remains donated to the burial preserve. The ceremony Sunday was on the vernal equinox — a half-year after the remains were placed in the chamber on the autumnal equinox, Viddal said.

The Natural Funeral has since taken 15 more sets of remains for natural reduction and has expanded its capacity to 48 decomposition vessels.

"We are anticipating a lot of growth," Viddal said.

At a cost of $7,900, natural reduction is pricier than a typical Denver cremation, which runs from $3,000 to $5,000, KUSA reported.

“To distinguish this service from something like cremation, which is an instant service — the process in its entirety is just a few hours — whereas with body composting we have a four- to six-month managed biological process, so I'm not anticipating that natural reduction will ever equal the price of a flame cremation," Viddal said. "We hope the price will become a little bit more competitive."