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Washington Makes History as First State to Approve Human Composting

Human Composting
Washington Makes History as First State to Approve Human Composting
Washington State is home the flagship funeral home for a process most commonly known as human composting. You don't want to miss this!

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You’ve probably heard of composting, but the services provided by Recompose in Washington State aren’t what you’d expect. They are the flagship funeral home for a process most commonly known as human composting.

The idea is essentially exactly what it sounds like. While it’s a fairly simple concept, getting approval for human composting has been much more complex. Is this the future of funerals?

What is Human Composting?

Human composting, also known as natural organic reduction, makes use of millions of microbes. The microbes are able to break down the body, including bone.

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When a human being’s time is up, in Western countries we generally have two main options for our mortal remains – burial or cremation. Now, a world-first facility has been set up to offer a unique alternative ritual to traditional choices: compost.

Natural microbial decomposition has been around for some time. What Recompose has done is simply found a way to speed up the process. Katrina Spade, the company’s founder, has compared their process to the natural decomposition of leaves in the forest.

To create the human compost, Recompose uses a large vessel that’s filled with microbes as well as straw, wood chips and alfalfa. The temperature is increased to 150 degrees in the vessel over the course of 30 days. At the end of the month-long process, the decomposed body and organic materials have formed about a cubic yard of soil.

To make the human composting as eco-friendly as possible, pacemakers are removed before the decomposition process begins. Other medical implants and equipment can be removed afterward.

The family can choose to take the soil home to scatter it on their property or use it for a potted plant. Some families actually choose to donate the soil to conservation groups that use the soil for various projects.

Why Washington State Passed Laws Allowing Human Composting

When Sen. Jamie Pedersen introduced Senate Bill 5001 in 2019, he noted that the funeral industry had not advanced technologically as other industries have in recent decades. SB 5001 was the companion legislation for House Bill 1162 that was designed to bring end of life services into the modern era.

The bill added new sections to chapter 68.04 RCW to provide legal guidance on alkaline hydrolysis (water cremation) and natural organic reduction – both of which were approved for use beginning on May 1, 2020. There are definitions along with information on the facilities used for the services.

Washington law now states that “Natural organic reduction means the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”

The two driving forces behind the approval of natural organic reduction in Washington are efficiency and pollution. Legislators in Washington recognized that traditional burials and cremation can be extremely harmful for the environment. As such, they understand alternatives are needed.

Then there’s the matter of space. At the pace with which the U.S. population is growing, aging and passing away, burials are not sustainable in any way. It uses too many natural resources and adds pollutants like embalming fluid into the environment. Even traditional flame-based cremation can be harmful.

Recompose and its supporters note that natural organic recomposition has a much lower impact than traditional burial. Anyone who followed Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s bid for president knows that climate change was a big part of his platform. It was no surprise that he was on board with expanding services to include natural organic reduction since it’s been proven effective and safe.

The fact that a state has approved such a unique procedure is proof that society as a whole is getting more used to the thought of using alternative end of life services in an effort to reduce environmental impact. So, if you’ve always wanted to be a tree this may be a step closer in that direction.

However, only time will tell if the general public is open to the idea of human composting. For now, flame cremation is still the most common end of life service in the U.S. But if the interest Recompose has received is an indicator, alternative methods may become more widely accepted in the coming years.

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