Residents in the state of Washington are set to become the first in US to be permitted to be disposed of by so-called “human composting”, a process that rapidly transforms remains into soil and is considered less harmful to be environment than burial or cremation.
Members of the state legislature voted to pass bill SB500l, a measure that would legalize the use of both alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction for human bodies.
The move comes amid growing interest in alternative ways of disposing of human bodies. Supporters of the bill have said they like the idea of their remains being recycled and helping nourish plants or trees.
If Gov. Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5001 into law, it will take effect May 1, 2020.
Right now, if a person dies in Washington, the body can only be cremated or buried, according to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jamie Pedersen. The bill gives people a third option for disposing of human remains: re-composition.
The process of re-composition essentially turns dead bodies into soil, a practice colloquially known as “human composting.” According to the bill’s language, this is the practice of “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”
The bill now only needs to be signed to law by Washington’s governor, Democrat Jay Inslee, who is currently seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination on a platform that seeks to safeguard the environment.
The move to legalise human composting and alkaline hydrolysis, a process sometimes referred to as water cremation, in which a body is broken down in water and lye and which is already permitted by 15 states, has been championed by state senator Jamie Pedersen.
“It’s about time we apply some technology, allow some technology, to be applied to this universal human experience both because we think that people should have the freedom to determine for themselves how they’d like their body to be disposed of and also because we have learned over time that there are some more environmentally friendly and safe ways of disposing of human remains,” Pedersen said in February.
Earlier this year, Mr Pedersen, the bill’s sponsor, told The Independent that the methods he was promoting could be $2,000 cheaper than a typical burial and less harmful to the environment.
“It’s amazing to me that in the year 2019, we still have only two ways of disposing of bodies, and those are ways we’ve used for centuries,” said Mr Pedersen, a Democrat whose district covers part of Seattle. “In all other ways, technology is changing everything.”
The effort has been partly driven by Katrina Spade, a Seattle-based designer and entrepreneur who is 2014, formed the so-called Urban Death Project, which allowed her to investigate the composting of human remains, while completing a master’s degree in architecture.
She liaised with researchers at Western Carolina and Washington State universities, most notably Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, professor of soil science at Washington State, to find the best way to break down human remains.
Katrina Spade is the CEO of the human composting company, Recompose, and told CNN affiliate KIRO-TV she is hoping her company can be one of the first to build a facility for the practice.
She explained to KIRO the complex process of turning a dead body into soil.
“(The) body is covered in natural materials, like straw or wood chips, and over the course of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil,” she said.
While the dead body is being broken down, Spade said families of the deceased will be able to visit her facility and will ultimately receive the soil that remains of their loved. It is up to the family how they want to use that soil, Spade said.
“And if they don’t want that soil, we’ll partner with local conservation groups around the Puget Sound region so that that soil will be used to nourish the land here in the state,” she said.
The process was the focus of a new study at Washington State University, according to KIRO, in which six people donated their bodies for research.
“We proved recomposition was indeed safe and effective for humans as well,” Spade said.
The average burial, KIRO said, can cost between $8,000 and $25,000. Cremation can top $6,000. Spade said she hopes to charge about $5,500 for human composting.
One supporter for human composting, Leslie Christian, told KIRO it’s an attractive from an environmental perspective. She said she told her brother, who reportedly said, “Oh great, you can plant tomatoes in me.”
“We’ve done it,” Ms Spade, said in an email to supporters last Friday, after legislators in the upper chamber of the state legislature in Olympia passed a measure that had previously been approved by the lower chamber.
Ms Spade, CEO of a Recompose, a company that wants to offer composting, added: “Natural organic reduction is defined as the “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains into soil”.