Like nearly everything else in the state, Recompose — Washington’s new human-composting option to traditional burial and cremation — had to do some fancy footwork when the pandemic hit.
The company had some dire weeks in March, and had to quit its mammoth Sodo warehouse where it had hoped to open its first, flagship space — but has since found a new, smaller location in Kent. Recompose hopes to open its doors and begin converting human bodies into clean, nutrient-rich soil (the legal name for the process is “natural organic reduction”) this November.
But for a while, Recompose founder Katrina Spade said it looked like the whole operation would have to close.
She described it as a one-two punch in March: COVID economics clobbered the stock market and spooked investors (just as Recompose was in the middle of a $6.75 million capital-raising campaign) while estimated build out costs for the 18,500 square-foot Sodo warehouse nearly doubled.
Funding dropped off. They couldn’t afford the build out. For a moment, it looked like the project — which was almost seven years in the making, had helped generate new soil science about human decomposition and even prompted changes in state law about the disposition of human remains — was doomed.
“I’m normally an optimistic person,” Spade said. “But I had a couple of weeks where I thought: ‘This just might be over.’ It felt awful. So many people have worked so hard for so many years to bring this to life.”
Then came the salvation: Someone with a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in Kent, who was interested in the death-care industry and learned about Recompose while it was working to change state law last spring, approached Recompose, offering his space.
The previous Sodo warehouse had been scheduled to open in March 2021 with 32 “vessels,” each a kind of temporary coffin where one body would be placed with a special mix of wood chips, alfalfa and straw and in a few weeks become usable soil. (The plan was to then add up to around 100 more vessels.) It would also have served as a gathering space for memorials, as well as death-care related events, like lectures or death- and grief-themed concerts.
Spade describes the new location as “a workhorse facility” — it will only hold 10 vessels and no public-gathering space. Instead, like funeral homes across the country, Recompose will focus on virtual services for the deceased, and is working with Oakland-based artist and death doula Angela Hennessy on rituals and ceremonies in lieu of traditional, in-person funerals. (Just as a birth doula helps with logistics and support during childbirth, a death doula assists in the process of dying.)
In June, the state Department of Licensing issued Recompose its official funeral-home license, allowing it to begin accepting prepayments for the $5,500 service, starting at $25 per month.
Spade is the first official Precompose member and has begun making down payments on her own mortality — that registration opens to the rest of the public on Aug. 18. Under state law, a funeral home taking prepayments can only access 10% of that money until the person in question dies. The other 90% must be kept in a trust until the death — then it can be used to cover funerary costs. That 90% is also refundable if people change their minds.
Spade says Recompose has named its new, 10-vessel facility The Greenhouse. “It’s a place where plants are started,” she said. “It’s where things germinate, and where you figure out what works.”