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08th January, 2019 11:08 IST

Washington May Legalise Human Composting In Which Remains Are Broken Down Into Soil


Seattle: Ashes to ashes, dust to new trees. The state of Washington is poised to make history by legalising a way of dealing with the dead in a way that is good for the planet – and potentially the soul.


When the overwhelming majority of people pass away, they are either cremated or buried, a sometimes costly process that can involve harmful products such as embalming liquid, or use fossil fuel energy.


But if Jamie Pedersen gets his way, the residents of Washington would be the first in the the nation permitted to undergo composting, a process in which human remains are gently broken down into soil that can be used to sustain new life. Want to help grow a tree after you have died? Then human composting, or recomposition, may be for you.


Pedersen, a Democratic state senator who is sponsoring a bill when the legislature reconvenes later this month, sees it as helping in two ways; it would likely be up to $2,000 cheaper than a regular burial, and less harmful to the environment.


“It’s amazing to me that in the year 2019, we still have only two ways of disposing of bodies, and those are ways we’ve used for centuries,” he tells The Independent. “In all other ways, technology is changing everything.”


The measure would also permit Washingtonians to make use of alkaline hydrolysis, a process sometimes referred to as water cremation, in which a body is broken down in water and lye, until just mineral dust is left. More than 15 states already permit this.


The new push to legalise human composting comes as Americans are increasingly thinking about more environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of either themselves or their loved ones.


“Because consumer values and lifestyles are reflected in their attitudes and decision-making about products and services in the marketplace – including their approach to death and funerals – interest in natural funeral and burial options will likely increase,” says the National Funeral Directors Association, a worldwide organistion that represents 20,000 members. “According to the 2017 NFDA survey, 53.8% of respondents indicated an interest in exploring green funeral services.”


While Jim Olson, a spokesperson, suspects human composting might face more cultural challenges in some places than others, he believes in Washington it could get traction. He says when families request a service, “the most important thing we ask [when families suggest something] is, is it ethical, is it legal”.


Last November, Recompose, a company founded by Katrina Spade, a 41-year-old Seattlebased designer and entrepreneur, reported that its study had “successfully concluded that recomposition of human bodies into soil is an effective and safe alternative to burial and cremation”. 

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