In the years since, at least three companies have sprung up in Washington alone, some of which have received millions in funding from venture capital firms. And with more states coming on board, entrepreneurs say the industry is more vibrant than ever.
At least six states have legalized the process so far, and California, the most populous US state, will allow human composting in 2027 after a law passed last year took effect, opening up the potential for millions of new customers.
“In Washington, where human composting has been legal for some time, the industry is concentrated and hypercompetitive,” Truman said. “But I’m sure everyone will be doing pushups and getting ready to go to California as soon as it opens.”
The commercialization of alternative death care is already creating tensions in a heavily product-based industry. It’s hard to get people to talk about death, much less invest in it. This has left death care entrepreneurs and greener death advocates struggling to balance altruistic goals with the demands of startup culture, according to Caitlin Doughty, a mortician and author of several books about death and the funeral industry.
“There’s a newer disconnect between the basic idea of the ritual of death in human composting and a strange appeal to emerging Silicon Valley,” she said. “It’s an interesting development.”
With the traditional funeral market worth $20 billion, it’s no wonder that new technologies have piqued the interest of tech investors. A 2019 survey by the funeral directors association found that nearly 52 percent of Americans expressed interest in green burial options, and experts have estimated that the emerging market opened up by legalization efforts in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and New York create a market. value in the $1 billion range.
There is also a growing market in Gen Z and millennials, known as the “death-positive” generations – more willing to discuss afterlife plans at younger ages and experiment with green options. Startups are rising to the occasionwith social media outreach: Return Home has more than 617,000 followers on TikTok, where its employees answer questions like “what happens to hip replacements in the human composting process?” and “how does it smell during the process?”
Human composting is not the only death care alternative that is gaining interest. Others include aquamation, a legal process in 28 states by which the body is turned into a liquid and then into a powder. Green burial, where bodies are buried without embalming or a casket and allowed to decompose naturally over time, is legal in almost all states, but laws vary on where the body can be buried.
But of all the alternatives, human composting seems to have received the most attention, Doughty said.
“I see that the composting space is very competitive in a way that I haven’t seen with (processes) like incineration, or even cremation,” she said. “He seems uniquely positioned to nexus climate change policy and new technology that appeals to the ethos of Silicon Valley.”
Focus on Ethics
The environmental benefits of alternative death care and green investments are on the rise for companies. Transcend, a New York-based green burial startup that promises to turn human trees into trees after death, lays out its goal of reforestation and eco-friendly burial in its advertising, saying on its website: “Each creates Burying a Tree is a healthier foundation for all life on earth.”
Its founder and CEO, Matthew Kochmann, has a Silicon Valley background and was one of Uber’s first employees. He came to the bereavement industry after considering the spiritual nature of burial options, he says.