California legalises controversial ‘human composting’ burial method

·2-min read
California legalises controversial ‘human composting’ burial method

California has legalised a burial process known as “human composting,” which advocates say will help cut down on the carboon footprint of funerals.

In human composting, the remains of the deceased are put in a reusable stainless steel vessel filled with biodegradable materials like wood chips. After 30 to 45 days, the remains will fully decompose into nutrient-rich soil, which can be given to loved ones or donated to land conservation, among other uses.

Advocates say the technique, which California governor Gavin Newsom legalised on Sunday by signing Assembly Bill 351, is more sustainable than traditional coffin burials or cremations. Unlike cremation, it avoids sending carbon emissions into the atmosphere, and unlike a traditional burial, it doesn’t involve any embalming chemicals or burying non-degradable coffins.

“AB 351 will provide an additional option for California residents that is more environmentally-friendly and gives them another choice for burial,” the legislation’s author, assemblymember Cristina Garcia, said in a statement. “With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”

Other states like Colorado, Oregon, and Vermony already allow the practice. Some religious groups have opposed human composting, arguing it raises moral issues.

Human composting creates an “unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased” the California Catholic Conference told SF Gate in a statement.

It also voiced concerns over how people’s remains would be distributed after the composting process.

If the soil was used in a public place, that "risks people treading over human remains without their knowledge while repeated dispersions in the same area are tantamount to a mass grave,” the conference added.

California’s law contains some safeguards, such as preventing the combining of different sets of remains into a single collection of soil without family consent.

Other states, like Colorado, go further, banning the sale of the composted remains or their use in growing food for human consumption.