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Becoming Compost vs Becoming a Tree After Death: A Comparison Guide

In today’s eco-conscious climate, many people are moving away from traditional burials in favor of cremation and other eco-friendly alternatives. Even religious institutions are starting to support the change from traditional funeral rituals in favor of sustainability. When we embrace sustainable practices at the end of our lives, we leave a lasting legacy of rebirth and renewal for the loved ones we leave behind. Two unique ways to return our bodies to earth are growing in popularity: becoming a tree and human composting.

park bench surrounded by cherry blossom trees

Becoming a Tree: The Process

Becoming a tree after death is a beautiful metamorphosis. It all begins with cremation. While some families choose to have a viewing or visitation before cremation, most prefer direct cremation. With direct cremation, the departed is cremated shortly after passing, foregoing traditional funeral services. For example, there is no embalming of the body. Once the body is cremated, the departed’s ashes are returned to the family in an urn of their choosing. The ashes are transferred into a special bio urn to become a tree.

The Living Urn® is a biodegradable tree urn that grows a tree in combination with ashes or cremated remains. While this innovative urn and planting system is complex, it’s very easy to use. First, the ashes are placed in the urn. Next, the proprietary RootProtect® additive is added on top of the remains. Then, a young tree of your choosing is lowered into the urn. The Living Urn has over seventy types of trees and shrubs available through our award-winning nursery. We use young trees instead of seeds or saplings because of their robust root system, which ensures success. Plant your special tree urn in a meaningful spot and watch it grow!

Human Composting: The Process

Human composting is the process of transitioning a human body into fertile soil. It mimics the biological process of organic material breaking down into topsoil. Shortly after a person passes, their body is washed and dressed in a biodegradable gown and placed in a vessel that contains a bed of alfalfa, straw, and sawdust; more of these elements are used to cover the body. The vessel is closed while the natural transformation takes place.

Over the next thirty to forty days, bacteria and microbes begin to break down the body in a process known as aerobic digestion. All of this work generates a lot of heat, raising the temperature in the vessel to around 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat also kills pathogens that could contaminate the soil. Whether by rotating the vessel or pumping oxygen in, air is needed for the microbes to work effectively. After aerobic digestion is finished, the body has been transformed into gas, creating nutrient-dense soil.

Non-organic elements, such as titanium hip or knee replacements and medical devices, are removed and recycled. The remaining bones are placed in a machine that breaks them down into smaller fragments. Once the fragments are returned to the compost, the soil is transferred to an aerated bin to cure for an additional three to five weeks.

The total human composting process takes eight to twelve weeks. Ultimately, the process yields about one cubic yard of dark, nutrient-dense soil weighing between 500 and 1000 lbs. Families can take all or some of the soil home or donate it to conservation programs.

Comparing Your Options: Tree vs Compost


As green alternatives, becoming a tree and human composting are much more affordable than a traditional burial. However, human composting is still three times as expensive as becoming a tree. With its lengthy process, human composting can cost around $7,000. On the other hand, direct cremation costs an average of $2,185. You can purchase The Living Urn BioUrn® Planting System for $135 (if you’d like to pick a tree locally) and create a beautiful living memorial. The Living Urn with a Voucher for a Tree is $169 if you wish to receive a tree directly from The Living Urn.


Because of their diverse processes, becoming a tree and human composting offer vastly different timelines. Transitioning the human body to nutrient-dense soil takes a considerable amount of time. The human composting process can take as long as three months to complete.

Direct cremation takes only a matter of hours. Once the family receives the ashes, they can choose to create a living memorial at any time.


Human composting can be challenging to access. It’s only legal in seven states: Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, New York, Vermont, and California. While several religious institutions have embraced direct cremation, there is still considerable opposition to human composting. Many religious institutions view human composting as undignified since composting is traditionally for food scrapes. Becoming a tree with The Living Urn is accessible anywhere in the country.

Which is the Best Option for Me?

How you commit your body to the earth is a personal choice. Here are a few areas to consider:


With human composting, your body is converted into one cubic yard of soil, which can cover quite a lot of ground. It can be tricky to know exactly where the human composted soil is used. When you become a tree, your ashes are concentrated in one specific area, making it easy for loved ones to visit whenever they wish.

Living Memorial or Garden

Becoming a tree allows you to stand as an enduring source of comfort to those you’ve left behind. Many trees can live to be over a thousand years old! Basking beneath your shade and protection, several generations will have a place to remember their family's legacy. With human composting, you can grow vegetables or anonymously support conservation projects.

Ease of Transition

For many bereaved family members, the human composting process may be too lengthy to endure. It may seem like a never-ending process that can prolong their grief. Becoming a tree allows grief-stricken loved ones to begin the planting process immediately. They’ll be able to nurture and care for their special tree daily, watching it grow and flourish before their very eyes.

Returning our bodies to nature is a beautiful final act. It allows us to replenish Mother Earth while bringing a sense of peace and closure to those we leave behind. Whether you wish to become a vibrant flowering cherry tree or a towering white oak, The Living Urn can help. We offer several magnificent trees for diverse climate zones. Visit our store today to discover which tree might be right for you!

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