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Death Is Getting More Ghoulishly Green In America

Wil540 art, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Going green is getting more ghoulish these days in America.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law this week directing state officials to create regulations for human composting by 2027.

In other words, an alternative to burials or cremations. The name of this process is organic reduction.

The process of turning a body into soil takes about 30 days or less. The deceased is placed in a vessel and covered with a mixture of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw.

In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize it. Then Oregon and Colorado followed in 2021.

Vermont legalized the practice earlier this year, while a bill legalizing human composting passed both the New York State Assembly and Senate this spring.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has yet to sign the bill.

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“The New York State Catholic Conference is disappointed in the passage of the human composting legislation,” Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference said. “Simply put, we do not believe this process treats the human body with the dignity it deserves.”

Once the process is complete, the “nutrient-rich material” can be spread on garden beds, planted with a tree, or used for conservation efforts.

CEO of Recompose, Katrina Spade, said in a statement to Changing America that the company is “thrilled” that Californians now have the option to choose to compost human remains instead of cremation or burial.

Spade gave a TED Talk in 2016 about composting. According to the Recompose website, her argument for composting rather than having a traditional burial or cremation is based on saving the environment.

Spade provides the following description of the Recompose model on her website.

“Healing The Climate”

“For every person who chooses Recompose over conventional burial or cremation, one metric ton of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering the atmosphere. In addition, our approach to human composting requires 1/8 the energy of conventional burial or cremation. Recompose allows you to choose an end-of-life option that strengthens the environment rather than depleting it,” her website states.

“Moving Away From Toxic Practices”

“Current funerary practices are environmentally problematic. Each year, 2.7 million people die in the U.S., and most are buried in a conventional cemetery or cremated. Cremation burns fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide and particulates into the atmosphere. Conventional burial consumes valuable urban land, pollutes the soil, and contributes to climate change through resource-intensive manufacture and transport of caskets, headstones, and grave liners. The overall environmental impact of conventional burial and cremation is about the same,” it continues.

“Creating Soil Health”

“The breakdown of organic matter is an essential component in the cycle that allows the death of one organism to nurture the life of another. Soil is the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. It filters water, provides nutrients to plants, sequesters carbon, and helps regulate global temperature,” it concludes.

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