Axios What's Next

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"Human composting" is a new, environmentally friendly "death care" option, Alex reports today.

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1 big thing: Now trending... "human composting"

Illustration of a skull surrounded by a recycling symbol

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Forget traditional burial or cremation — "human composting" is the hot new thing in death care, Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

Why it matters: Deciding what should be done with your remains is a deeply personal matter, and new options don't arise all that often.

What's happening: California recently became the fifth U.S. state to legalize human composting, through which a person's remains are turned into usable soil.

  • It's also been approved in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington; New York could be next.
  • Recompose, a Seattle-based funeral home, is at the forefront of the movement.

How it works: Upon a client's death, Recompose organizes "laying-in ceremonies" similar to traditional funerals.

  • The body is then placed in a specially designed vessel and surrounded with natural materials, such as wood chips and alfalfa.
  • "By controlling the ratio of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and moisture, human composting creates the perfect environment for microbes and beneficial bacteria to thrive," says Recompose. "These microbes are assisted by mechanical steps to help complete the transformation into soil."
  • The process takes around a month and results in about a cubic yard of soil, including the composted plant matter. Non-organic matter (such as dental implants) are sorted out, and the soil is tested.

The deceased's loved ones can then take the entire result, or a smaller portion in an urn-like container, for use in a backyard garden or forest (with landowners' permission).

  • Recompose donates unwanted soil to local forest conservation efforts.

What they're saying: "That soil is, on the one hand, very sacred and special to the people still living," says Recompose founder and CEO Katrina Spade.

  • "But on the other hand, it's just soil. And so to be able to return to the Earth in a meaningful way, to the forest, through our conservation partners, I think that's my favorite option," she says.
Guests place flowers on a shrouded mannequin at Recompose Seattle.
Guests place flowers on a shrouded mannequin at Recompose Seattle. Photo: Mat Hayward/Getty Images for Recompose

By the numbers: Recompose costs $7,000, including pickup, composting and soil donation. That's generally more expensive than direct cremation, but cheaper than burial.

  • Recompose has composted over 200 people so far, says Spade. Around 1,200 more have signed up to make monthly payments toward the final cost.

Recompose client Nina Schoen was attracted by the "slow transition of transforming into something else, which means that a death doesn't happen overnight," she says.

  • "And to me that helps break down the barrier we have between here one minute, gone the next — this invisibleness of death."

Another draw: Environmental concerns. Human composting saves about 1.2 metric tons of carbon compared to traditional burial or cremation, Spade says.

  • "Hundreds of folks who are under the age of 49 ... are signing up with us. And I believe the common thread is the climate crisis and the state of the environment generally."

The bottom line: Human composting might benefit from a bit of rebranding — but its proponents are glad to have found an option that better suits their attitudes toward death.

  • "I love this idea that it's like my time has come, and now it's time for something else," says Schoen.

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2. Gadgets get the ax

An illustration of a computer falling down a chasm.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Tech giants are ditching some of their consumer device product lines to trim costs, Axios' Peter Allen Clark reports.

What's happening: Amazon's reported plan to lay off about 10,000 workers will involve cuts at the retail giant's devices team, per the New York Times, with other layoffs in its retail and HR divisions.

  • Meta, meanwhile, is shutting down its Portal smart display platform and smartwatch projects.
  • Google has canceled its next Pixelbook laptop and scuttled the team that was building it.

Yes, but: Apple and Microsoft have yet to publicly announce any device cuts, and continue to update existing lines.

  • Plus, Meta remains full steam ahead on its Oculus virtual reality headsets — in part an effort to build a new platform beyond the reach of Apple and Google, which dominate the smartphone world.

Read the full story.

3. Home births surged during the pandemic

An illustration of a medical cross logo hanging over a baby's crib.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a 30-year high in U.S. home births last year as people avoided hospitals, per new CDC data, Axios' Sabrina Moreno reports.

  • Home births jumped 22% between 2019 and 2020, compared to an average rise of 2% from 1990 to 2019, said Elizabeth Gregory, a researcher who co-authored the report.
  • The greatest increases were among Black and Hispanic women.

By the numbers: The overall percentage of people giving birth at home in 2021 — 1.41% — was the highest level since at least 1990.

  • It was as high as 1.51% in January 2021, when COVID vaccines weren’t widely available and one person in the U.S. was dying from the virus every 28 seconds.

Read the rest.

4. 📈 Health care workers love unions now

Note: Latest data from August 2022 survey of 1,828 nonunion professionals; including 193 tech professionals; 286 health care professionals; 620 21-34-year-olds; and 273 education professionals.

Health care workers are far more likely to support a union today than they were pre-COVID, with 71% now in favor versus 56% in 2016, Axios' Emily Peck reports.

  • That's according to a survey of more than 1,800 nonunionized professional workers conducted in August and released last week from the Department for Professional Employees, a trade department of the AFL-CIO.

The big picture: Support for unionizing rose to 65% from 60% among all professionals, defined as those with at least an associate's degree who hold a job with a degree requirement.

Read on.

5. One fun thing: Jump!

A practice jump in November 2021 for next week's world record attempt.

The group during a practice jump in November 2021. Photo courtesy of Casey Swizzle 

100 female skydivers are attempting to break a world record by jumping in tandem over the Arizona desert, Axios' Jessica Boehm reports.

What's happening: About 120 women (including alternates) from 22 countries have signed up to participate.

  • They will board five aircraft, jump in a head-down sequence, and attempt to simultaneously link arms while free-falling at 160 mph.
  • The divers have to connect within 80 seconds of free fall, with no errors, to count for record purposes.

Of note: Only 14% of U.S. skydivers are women.

  • "It's not that women are told that they can't skydive, it's just not something at the forefront of a little girl's mind," says organizer and pro skydiver Amy Chmelecki.

Read the rest.

Big thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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