PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – An Oregon law allowing a body to be turned into compost after a person dies went into effect on July 1.
Oregon became the third state to legalize the practice of natural organic reduction, also known as human composting, when Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2574 in June 2021. The change not only adds a new after-death option in the state, it also presents a new business opportunity.
Carolyn Maezes, CEO and co-founder of Earth Funeral Group, said her company opened its first human composting facility in Auburn, Washington in March.
Washington legalized the practice before Oregon and facilities could begin operating in the state in January 2021.
Although Earth Funeral Group’s facility is in Auburn, the company also has a funeral home in Portland, allowing them to offer services to people in Oregon.
Maezes, whose family lives in Oregon, said she looks forward to expanding and opening another facility in the Beaver State in the future.
“Southern Oregon could be a great place for a facility,” she said. “We can service kind of down to Portland pretty well from our Auburn facility, but having a second facility in Medford that could service more of the Central and Southern Oregon markets, I think would make a lot of sense.”
Maezes doesn’t know how soon the expansion could happen. She said there are a lot of market dependencies to consider before they make the move, but it’s a goal she plans to accomplish.
She said even though Earth’s funeral home is in Portland, people from outside the metro area are still welcome. Earth’s package prices include transportation. So, if descendants need to be transported farther, they can pay accordingly.
Interested customers can explore their options on Earth Funeral Group’s website.
“You can start a quote, and that quote is personalized to you. It’s based on your zip code so that you would get a package price that would include the transportation to bring either your loved one or you into our care,” Meazes explained.
She said the soil transformation process at Earth is very similar to other Washington human composting businesses. Bodies are placed into vessels with other organic materials and it will take 30 to 45 days for them to be transformed to soil.
Earth Funeral Group currently has 24 vessels at its Auburn location and Maezes said they’re adding more vessels every couple weeks. The goal is to eventually have 200.
The soil that’s returned to loved ones can be used for gardening or can be scattered like ashes. Family members and loved ones can keep up to five containers of soil.
The rest of the soil, or anything a family does not want to take, is used on a piece of conservation land the company owns on the Olympic Peninsula. Earth Funeral Group is working with an ecologist on a restoration plan for the land and is using the soil to help regrow native plants.
In the past, Maezes led patient experience and social work services for DaVita, a dialysis provider. Many of the people she worked with were suffering from kidney failure and terminal illness. She said this experience really exposed her to how end of life care is handled in the United States and how limited peoples options are when it comes to fulfilling their end of life wishes.
She felt like there wasn’t a great after-death option for people who care about environmentalism.
Maezes and other natural organic reduction providers say the process produces significantly less carbon than cremation and avoids placing wood, steel and other materials in the ground. She also pointed out that maintaining cemeteries requires lawn fertilizer and water for irrigation.
“All of that really does add up into a pretty significant environmental impact,” she said.
Maezes said she’s thrilled more Oregonians will have the option to choose natural organic reduction as their after-life option, now that the law has gone into effect. She sees it as one final way people can give back to the earth.
Earth Funeral Group isn’t the only natural organic reduction company eying Oregon. Recompose, another company based in Washington, said in 2021 that it plans to open a location in Oregon in the next few years.
In March 2022, Micah Truman, CEO of Return Home, also a Washington-based human composting company, told KOIN 6 News he hopes to expand into Oregon in about a year.