In this Friday, April 19, 2019, photo Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, displays a sample of the compost material left from the decomposition of a cow, using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw, as she poses in a cemetery in Seattle. Washington is set to become the first state to allow the burial alternative known as “natural organic reduction,” that turns a body into soil in a matter of weeks. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Back to Earth: Washington State set to allow ‘human composting’

If signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, the new law would take effect May 1, 2020

Washington State appears set to become the first state to allow a burial alternative known as “natural organic reduction” — an accelerated decomposition process that turns bodies into soil within weeks.

The bill legalizing the process, sometimes referred to as “human composting,” has passed the Legislature and is headed to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

If signed by Inslee, the new law would take effect May 1, 2020. Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said that while the governor’s office is still reviewing the bill, “this seems like a thoughtful effort to soften our footprint” on the Earth.

The measure’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, said that the low environmental impact way to dispose of remains makes sense, especially in crowded urban areas.

The natural organic reduction process yields a cubic yard (0.76 cubic meters) of soil per body — enough to fill about two large wheelbarrows. Pedersen said that the same laws that apply to scattered cremated remains apply to the soil: Relatives can keep the soil in urns, use it to plant a tree on private property or spread it on public land in the state as long as they comply with existing permissions regarding remains.

“It is sort of astonishing that you have this completely universal human experience — we’re all going to die — and here’s an area where technology has done nothing for us. We have the two means of disposing of human bodies that we’ve had for thousands of years, burying and burning,” Pedersen said. “It just seems like an area that is ripe for having technology help give us some better options than we have used.”

Pedersen said an entrepreneurial constituent whose study of the process became her master’s thesis brought the idea to him.

READ MORE: Nearly forgotten B.C. prison cemetery restored

Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose , was a graduate student in architecture at University of Massachusetts Amherst when she came up with the idea — modeling it on a practice farmers have used for decades to dispose of livestock.

She modified that process a bit, and found that the use of wood chips, alfalfa and straw creates a mixture of nitrogen and carbon that accelerates natural decomposition when a body is placed in a temperature and moisture-controlled vessel and rotated.

Six human bodies — all donors who Spade said wanted to be part of this study — were reduced to soil during a pilot project at Washington State University last year. The transformation from body to soil took between four and seven weeks, Spade said.

A price for the service hasn’t yet been set, but the Recompose website states that the company’s “goal is to build a sustainable business to make recomposition a permanent death care option, serve people for decades to come, and make our services available to all who want them.”

According to the Cremation Association of North America, Washington state’s cremation rate is the highest in the nation. More than 78 per cent of those who died in the state in 2017 were cremated, and that number is expected to increase to more than 82 per cent in 2022.

Rob Goff, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association, said his group has been getting questions about the new process, and Spade has been a speaker at a series of recent district meetings of the association.

“To be able to provide more options for people’s choices is a very exciting thing,” he said.

Spade said that she doesn’t want to replace cremation or burial, but instead offer a meaningful alternative that is also environmentally friendly.

“Our goal is to provide something that is as aligned with the natural cycle as possible, but still realistic in being able to serve a good number of families and not take up as much land as burial will,” she said.

Pedersen said he thinks he may still want a marker in a cemetery when he dies, but said he is drawn to the idea of his body taking up less space with a process like natural organic reduction.

“I think it’s really a lovely way of exiting the earth,” he said.

Pederson’s bill also would authorize in Washington state the use of alkaline hydrolysis — already used in 19 other states — which uses heat, pressure, water, and chemicals like lye to reduce remains to components of liquid and bone similar to cremated ashes that can be kept in urns or interred.

Rachel La Corte, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Status of C&C Wood Products focus of discussion at Quesnel city council meeting

Mayor Bob Simpson said he hopes a formal statement can be issued soon surrounding its future

Cariboo ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

Flood watches issued for Quesnel, Horsefly Rivers

Flows rising in response to snowmelt and rainfall, continued rises expected

RCMP urge Williams Lake residents to be cautious as suspect remains on the loose

Man seen speeding on Highway 97 fled from police after colliding with RCMP vehicle

Quesnel RCMP Crime Reduction Unit making a big impact

The focus of the Unit is to target drug, property, and prolific offenders in the community

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

Feds get failing grade for lack of action plan on anniversary of MMIWG report

‘Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan’

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Greater Victoria drive-thru window smashed after man receives burger without mustard

Greater Victoria Wendy’s staff call police after man allegedly rips Plexiglas barrier off window

Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit was en route as whale broke free from prawn trap line

Racist incident shocks Vancouver Island First Nation

Port Alberni RCMP investigating after video shows truck wheeling through Tseshaht territory

Vancouver Island school principal mourns brother, cousin killed during U.S. protests

Jelks says he’s grateful for the outpouring of support from the community in the wake of this tragedy

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

Most Read