Human composting: Washington set to become first state to allow process that quickly transforms remains into soil

Bill just awaiting signature of governor Jay Inslee

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 22 April 2019 18:28 BST
Katrina Spade talks about human composting at TEDxOrcasIsland

Residents in the state of Washington are set to become the first in US to be permitted to be disposed of by so-called “human composting”, a process that rapidly transforms remains into soil and is considered less harmful to be environment than burial or cremation.

Members of the state legislature voted to pass bill SB500l, a measure that would legalise the use of both alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction for human bodies.

The move comes amid growing interest in alternative ways of disposing of human bodies. Supporters of the bill have said they like the idea of their remains being recycled and helping nourish plants or trees.

The bill now only needs to be signed to law by Washington’s governor, Democrat Jay Inslee, who is currently seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination on a platform that seeks to safeguard the environment.

The move to legalise human composting and alkaline hydrolysis, a process sometimes referred to as water cremation, in which a body is broken down in water and lye and which is already permitted by 15 states, has been championed by state senator Jamie Pedersen.

Earlier this year, Mr Pedersen, the bill’s sponsor, told The Independent that the methods he was promoting could be $2,000 cheaper than a typical 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,” said Mr Pedersen, a Democrat whose district covers part of Seattle. “In all other ways, technology is changing everything.”

The effort has been partly driven by Katrina Spade, a Seattle-based designer and entrepreneur who is 2014, formed the so-called Urban Death Project, which allowed her to investigate the composting of human remains, while completing a master’s degree in architecture.

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She liaised with researchers at Western Carolina and Washington State universities, most notably Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, professor of soil science at Washington State, to find the best way to break down human remains.

“We’ve done it,” Ms Spade, said in an email to supporters last Friday, after legislators in the upper chamber of the state legislature in Olympia passed a measure that had previously been approved by the lower chamber.

Ms Spade, CEO of a Recompose, a company that wants to offer composting, added: “Natural organic reduction is defined as the “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains into soil”.

“Over the past several years, Recompose has developed a system that does just that, and we are overjoyed that we will soon be able to offer our service in the State of Washington. We are filled with gratitude for the many people who helped make sustainable death care a reality.”

A spokesperson for Mr Inslee, Tara Lee, said: “The governor and staff will review the bill and then make decisions as to what action will taken. He has not weighed in on this previously.”

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