Washington becomes first US state to allow human composting

Katy Clifton
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Washington becomes first US state to allow human composting

Washington has become the first US state to legalise human composting as an alternative to cremations and burials.

Under the new law, people can now choose to have their body turned into soil through "natural organic reduction".

Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation legalising the process, which turns a body mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw into about two wheelbarrows' worth of soil in weeks.

Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they may have spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated, or use it to plant vegetables or a tree.

"It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death," said Nora Menkin, executive director of the Seattle-based People's Memorial Association, which helps people plan for funerals.

Supporters say the method is an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation and burials.

Supporters say composting is environmentally friendly (Unsplash/Jahsie Ault)

"That's a serious weight on the earth and the environment as your final farewell," said Senator Jamie Pedersen, the Seattle Democrat who sponsored the measure.

State law previously dictated that remains be disposed of by burial or cremation. The law, which takes effect in May 2020, added composting as well as alkaline hydrolysis, a process already legal in 19 other states.

The latter uses heat, pressure, water and chemicals such as lye to reduce remains.

Cemeteries across the US are allowed to offer natural or "green" burials, by which people are buried in biodegradable shrouds or caskets without being embalmed.

Composting could be a good option in cities where cemetery land is scarce, Mr Pedersen said.

The state senator said he has received angry emails from people who object to the idea, calling it undignified or disgusting.

"The image they have is that you're going to toss Uncle Henry out in the backyard and cover him with food scraps," he said.

To the contrary, he said, the process will be respectful.