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Human Composting Just Got the Green Light in Washington

It's an eco-friendly alternative to burial or cremation

by Emma Ockerman
May 21 2019, 8:17pm

Washington just became the first state in the U.S. to allow “human composting” as an alternative to burying or cremating dead bodies.

State legislators passed a bill last month legalizing what they called “natural organic reduction” as a way to lay a deceased person to rest. Gov. Jay Inslee, who is also running for president with a climate change agenda, signed that bill into law on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. Essentially, starting May 1, 2020, it’s fine for a person to request they be composted after they die, rather than cremated or embalmed and buried.


The composting option will cost an estimated $5,500, according to MYNorthwest. The average funeral with a viewing and burial can run near $9,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. This option isn’t just cheaper, proponents and businesses pledge — it’s more environmentally friendly. The cremation process belches carbon dioxide and toxins like mercury; the metals from caskets can corrode and degrade toxins into cemetery soil.

It’s also not as simple as putting just someone in the ground and letting nature take over. According to Recompose, a human composting company that stands to benefit from the law, a person will be laid to rest in a specially designed container of carbon- and nitrogen-heavy natural materials, which will accelerate decomposition. The soil-like material resulting from that process, which will take about a month, will then be returned to families if they want it. Recompose will soon build a facility up to the task, according to MYNorthwest.

"For some, it was a way to ... give back whatever nutrients we have in our bodies when we die, even if it's just a little bit, rather than burn that nutrient up or bury it in the ground," Katrina Spade, founder and chief executive of Recompose, told WBUR in Washington. "The idea of being able to give it back to this planet that supports us our whole lives — I think it was a little bit of that."

"To become part of the soil quickly that will turn into a tree or something, I just think there’s a lovely poetry about that"

Facilities that want to get into the composting business will have to be licensed and regulated, according to the Guardian. Spade worked with Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a professor at Washington State University, on studies to determine the composition process was safe and feasible.

“For that whole process to be more gentle, to allow people to essentially become part of the soil quickly that will turn into a tree or something, I just think there’s a lovely poetry about that,” Democratic Sen. Jamie Pederson, who introduced the bill, told the Guardian.

Cover: In this Friday, April 19, 2019, photo Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, displays a sample of the compost material left from the decomposition of a cow, using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw, as she poses in a cemetery in Seattle. Spade hopes to use the process, which accelerates natural decomposition when placed in a temperature and moisture-controlled vessel that is rotated, to compost human bodies. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)