(NEXSTAR) — When we die, one of few things may occur: we’ll be cremated, placed in a casket and buried, or donated for research. There are other options — like being shot into space or put in a casket and pushed into the ocean — but some states are hoping to legalize another option: human composting.
It was the state of Washington that first legalized human composting — otherwise referred to as natural organic reduction — in 2019. Since then, nearly half a dozen states have passed legislation to allow human remains to be broken down by tiny microbes and composted into soil.
Other states are hoping to do the same. It may be coming at the right time, too — according to a recent survey by the National Funeral Directors Association, 60% of respondents, comprising of consumers 40 years old and older, said they would be interested in exploring “green” funeral and natural burial options, data shared with News 2’s parent company, Nexstar, shows.
What is natural organic reduction?
While the means of human composting can vary by company, the goal is to mimic the natural process of decomposition and creating soil.
At Earth, which offers natural organic reduction services in Washington and Oregon, for example, the body is placed in a biodegradable shroud after being gently washed, then put in a vessel with a layer of mulch and woodchips. Wildflowers are also added, Earth explains. The body and materials remain in the vessel for 45 days until a roughly cubic-yard of soil is created.
Families decide how much soil they would like to keep while the rest is sent to Earth’s conservation site used for land restoration projects.
Similarly, Seattle-based Recompose lays bodies in a vessel with wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The vessel is then closed to allow soil to form over five to seven weeks. The soil then cures for three to five weeks outside the vessel, again creating about a cubic yard’s worth. According to Recompose, the soil can then be donated to a land trust.
Who has legalized human composting?
As previously mentioned, six states have legalized human composting. Washington was the first to legalize natural organic reduction.
Colorado and Oregon legalized the green burial method in 2021. Vermont and California followed suit in 2022, and earlier this year, New York became the sixth state to allow the process.
Which states have tried to legalize it this year?
Lawmakers in Nevada introduced a bill in March that would legalize natural organic reduction, News 2’s sister station, KLAS, reports. In mid-April, the bill was read in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Health and Human Services after passing the State Assembly, 38-4. A committee hearing on the legislation is scheduled for May 9.
A similar bill was introduced in Rhode Island, according to News 2’s sister station, WPRI. That bill was introduced in early March and referred to committee.
The Illinois House passed a bill to legalize natural organic reduction in March. In April it was referred to assignments by the Senate. The bill faces opposition from the Catholic Church and some in the burial industry, News 2’s sister station, WTVO, reports.
Lawmakers in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have also considered legalizing natural organic reduction this year.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association survey, 5.5% of respondents said they would prefer natural organic reduction when asked how they might be laid to rest. The organization notes, though, that the option remains fairly new and some may be unaware of the process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.