Washington lawmakers consider bill to legalize human composting, green end-of-life options

Washington lawmakers consider bill to legalize human composting, green end-of-life options (PHOTO: KOMO News)

A bill that would make it possible to compost your body when you die is now up for a vote in the State Senate. Several advocates say it's good for the planet and a fraction of the cost of a traditional burial. But opponents worry about if it's the right thing to do.

When it comes to end-of-life options, Hanna Floss and other supporters say human composting — the process of turning human bodies into soil — is the greenest choice of all.

“It’s hard to think about, but it seems like a really natural way to go,” said Floss. “If we can turn ourselves into soil actually and provide nutrients to plants, that’s a bigger win for me.”

She learned about the issue in December and went before lawmakers two weeks ago to show her support.

State Senator Jamie Pederson filed a bill to legalize human composting, also known as ‘recomposition,’ as well as alkaline hydrolysis — a process of using lye and heat to dissolve the remains.

“Under Washington State law, the only ways to legally dispose of human remains are to bury or to cremate the remains. This bill would add two new options,” said Pederson.

He explained how recomposition would work.

“Natural organic reduction which is also referred to as recomposing or composting — that would mean the controlled accelerated recomposition of body into soil. They would place a body into a small chamber, cylinder along with organic material, such as wood chips or alfalfa or peat poss, and then apply a small amount of heat and oxygen and the results of that within 30 days, it’s transformed into a cubic yard of soil,” said Pederson.

The bill now moves on for a Senate vote and public hearing in the House.

“The vast majority of people are excited to have more options,” said Pederson. “The biggest concerns I have heard comes from the Catholic Church which believes this is not a dignified way of treating human remains."

Washington State University researchers say recomposting is safer, less expensive and better for the environment than burial or cremation.

Katrina Spade, CEO and founder of Recompose, hopes to open a human composting facility where human bodies will recompose in aerated, heated containers with wood chips, straw and alfalfa.

Spade says there’s a need to be an alternative to burials and cremations.

“It is an understandable tendency to limit the amount of time we spend contemplating our after-death choices, but environmental realities are pressing us to develop alternatives to chemical embalming, carbon-generating cremation and the massive land use requirements of traditional cemeteries,” said Spade. “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.”

She stated that recomposition uses 1/8 the energy of cremation.

At Volunteer Park right next to Lake View Cemetery, we caught up with Sawyer Fuller. He was surprised to learn about human composting.

“I had to think about it a little bit,” said Sawyer.

But upon further review, he said the idea makes sense.

“It seems like a good idea and we have this excess organic material anyway,” said Fuller.

As for Floss, she believes that human composting is the way to go.

“If you do care about the environment, it’s something to consider,” said Floss.

The issue is up for a vote as early as next Wednesday.

Public hearings will be held in several weeks.

Spade says if the bill passes and is signed into law by the governor, Washington would be the first state in the country to allow for recomposition. She says a Recompose service and memorial could cost about $5,500. That's more than a cremation but less than the average cost for a funeral.

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