Washington on Tuesday became the first US state to legalize human composting after its eco-friendly governor signed a bill to that effect in a bid to cut carbon emissions from burials and cremations.
Under the new law that will go into effect in May of next year, people who die in the state will have the option to have their bodies transformed into soil suitable for use in gardening. The process is called recomposition.
“Recomposition offers an alternative to embalming and burial or cremation that is natural, safe, sustainable, and will result in significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage,” said Katrina Spade, who lobbied for the law and is the founder of Recompose, a Seattle-based company set to be the first to offer the service.
“The idea of returning to nature so directly and being folded back into the cycle of life and death is actually pretty beautiful,” Spade added in a statement.
She said she became interested in the process about 10 years ago after turning 30 and thinking more about her mortality.
Spade then began examining the technical aspects of creating an environmentally friendly “third option” that could compete with the $20-billion US funeral industry, which offers conventional burial and cremation.
Her approach – developed with Washington State University, which did clinical trials with donor bodies – calls for a dead person to be placed in an hexagonal steel container filled with wood chips, alfalfa and straw.
The container is then shut and the body is decomposed by microbes within 30 days. The end product is a dry, fluffy nutrient-rich soil resembling what one would buy at a local nursery and suitable for vegetable gardens.
“Everything – including bones and teeth – is recomposed,” Spade said. “That’s because our system creates the perfect environment for thermophilic (i.e. heat-loving) microbes and beneficial bacteria to break everything down quite quickly.”
The process used by Recompose is the same as that used for decades with farm animals and the clinical trials carried out by the university in Washington found that it was also safe for use with humans.