Just a few months ago, facilities in Washington state began accepting bodies under the state’s new human composting option. Now, at least two more states are considering laws to allow the practice.
The proposals come as more Americans seek “green burial” options, which can include wilderness burials, traditional interments in eco-friendly containers and human composting.
This year, some lawmakers in Oregon and Colorado want to follow Washington’s lead and allow for “natural organic reduction,” a process that converts human remains to soil. Decedents are placed into a temperature-controlled vessel with wood chips, straw and other materials, a system that increases nitrogen and carbon levels and decomposes bodies in about a month. The Colorado bill was first proposed last year, but delayed due to the pandemic.
In Washington state, three facilities are currently licensed to conduct human composting, and two of them received their first bodies in December, KOIN reported.
State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, the Democrat who sponsored Washington’s human composting law in 2019, told Stateline that year that he was open to other changes in end-of-life laws as more residents seek green burials.
“If there are obstacles to responsible practices for the disposal of human remains,” he said, “it makes sense for us to clear those away and leave space for the practice to develop.”
Washington’s law was opposed by the Washington State Catholic Conference, wrote lawmakers at the time to oppose the measure. The group said composting disrespects bodies, which should be buried in sacred places.
Green burial advocates argue that traditional practices put large amounts of embalming fluid, steel and concrete into the ground. Even cremations, which have become the most popular burial option, release carbon emissions, they note.
While most states don’t explicitly ban green burial methods, many have laws that make the practices difficult. Rules regulating paved roads, fencing, endowments and transportation are common obstacles. Some local officials have also passed ordinances hostile to green burial.