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.

Just Posted

Halloween roundup: Bonfires, fireworks and haunted houses

Events in Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Saanich, Saanich Peninsula and Sooke

Fairway Gorge Paddle Club outrigger relay race raises money for men’s health

Annual Movember event returns, all proceeds will go to B.C. Cancer and Island Prostate Centre

Canadian Conservation Corp offers free nine-month adventure

Adventure program targets those aged 18 to 30

City of Victoria considers proposed senior rental development

The Mount St. Angela’s complex aims to include affordable rental units

Clear skies and wind ahead for Tuesday

Plus a look ahead at the week

In the news: Liberals eke out a win, but will need NDP, Green support to pass bills

Conservatives say they are ready if Trudeau should falter

Second young woman dies after rollover crash near Williams Lake

‘Someone’s going to get her heart, which is awesome, because she has the best heart in the world’

Google searches for ‘how to vote’ surge on Election Day

Interest spikes despite social media campaign by Elections Canada

Union says Western Forest Products refuses to budge from ‘unreasonable concessions’

According to a press release, both parties met on Oct. 16, 18, 19, and 20.

Alberta man pleads guilty, fined for hunting without a licence in North Island

It’s the responsibility of each hunter or angler to know whether they are considered a B.C. Resident.

Alcohol a possible factor in crash that killed 17-year-old girl near Williams Lake

A pickup truck left the road and rolled over on Highway 20 on the weekend

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

App designed to help cut waste and grocery bills

Food security advocates say addressing poverty is ultimate key

Most Read