Washington Becomes First State to Allow Eco-Friendly Human Composting

(CN) – Within 30 days of death, a human body could be the soil nourishing a growing tree under a bill signed into Washington law Tuesday morning by Governor Jay Inslee. The process uses fewer resources than traditional burial and releases far less carbon dioxide than cremation.

Senate Bill 5001 legalizes “natural organic reduction,” or the “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil” and the scattering of such remains in a designated cemetery garden. After 30 days covered in wood chips, every part of the body – even bones and teeth – is transformed by heat-loving microbes into about one cubic yard of compost. Non-organic parts like artificial limbs and metal fillings are removed at the beginning of the process.

Family and friends can take soil home and use it to grow a tree or a garden in honor of their loved one, or opt to have the soil scattered on “conservation land” in the Puget Sound area.

The bill also legalizes alkaline hydrolysis, a type of liquid cremation that uses heat, pressure and chemicals to dissolve remains. That process is already legal in 19 other states.

While nearly 80 percent of Washingtonians opt for cremation, the process uses about the same amount of energy it takes to drive 4,800 miles. Human composting uses about 1/8 of the energy and sequesters carbon, preventing an estimated one metric ton of carbon per person from entering the atmosphere. 

The bill was introduced by Washington state Senator Jamie Pederson and 10 other lawmakers, but making human composting a realistic option for Americans is a labor of love spearheaded by Katrina Spade, CEO of alternative burial company Recompose. The company worked with Washington legislators to craft SB 5001 and plans to open its flagship location in Seattle.

Spade stood next to Inslee Tuesday morning as he signed the bill into law.

“How did you get interested in this?” Inslee asked Spade.

“You know, I just started thinking about my own mortality,” she replied.

“That’s great,” he said. “People now have a wider variety of options for dealing with human remains. I want to thank Sen. Pedersen and Katrina Spade for developing this option and I’m happy to sign this bill.

Inslee also signed a bill Tuesday that will expand the state’s financial aid program to pay full or partial tuition for an estimated 110,000 students. Under the Workforce Education Investment Act, students whose families make $50,000 or less per year can attend college tuition-free. The bill also covers partial tuition grants students whose families make up to the state’s median income, which is about $92,000 for a family of four.

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