Another Earth Day arrives April 22, when we recommit to caring for the planet, to paying closer attention to our recycling habits, to maybe start composting. But soon, slowly, quietly, we often slide back into our old habits.
This Earth Day, why not instead commit to becoming earth, after you die, with natural organic reduction?
Fewer Americans choose burial every year, in part due to its steep environmental costs, including the steel or wood used in caskets, the concrete in the outer burial container, and the granite or bronze in the memorial marker. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, cremation rates continue to rise each year, with about 58% of Americans choosing this option.
But flame cremation's environmental report card isn't spotless, either. The process uses fossil fuels and releases dental mercury, dioxins, and other contaminants into the air.
Fortunately, there's a new opportunity to combat climate change, called natural organic reduction (NOR), and it's time for Minnesotans to bring it to the Midwest. First legally recognized as a form of disposition in 2019 in Washington state, NOR is gaining traction as an end-of-life alternative.
I have been a licensed mortician for 18 years, and taught a generation of morticians at the University of Minnesota over the course of a decade. In that time, I have heard public interest in natural burial, water cremation, end of life doulas, home vigils and other natural paths at the end of life grow from a few passionate voices to a steady clamor.
When examined closely, nothing we do with our dead will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, largely because we wouldn't want any of those things done to us while alive. But NOR has an end product that might truly lift our spirits: About a cubic yard of nutrient dense, enriching soil.
Over the course of about six weeks, NOR reduces a person's body to this state with a process very similar to composting. The resulting soil — about what fits in a pickup truck bed — can be returned to the family, or donated to conservation projects to nourish and restore trees and plants.
If there's one thing that's true about Minnesotans, it's that we are always above average. We were the first state to educate future morticians in a medical school — the same medical school that still houses the Program of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota. We were among the first to require a bachelor's degree for our morticians, elevating the profession nationally. We were also the first state to legalize alkaline hydrolysis (also known as water cremation) as a form of disposition, in 2003. That's not just above average, that's downright innovative.
If NOR sounds like your kind of return to the Earth, we need your help to make it happen. NOR isn't recognized as a legal form of disposition in Minnesota yet, though bills have been introduced in the Legislature (HF 2669/SF 3134). To join a grassroots group raising awareness and working with legislators to advocate for NOR's legalization, email MNNORActionGroup@gmail.com.
Angela Woosley is a Minnesota-licensed mortician and owner of Inspired Journeys, the Midwest's first woman-owned natural death care provider.