California Has Legalized Human Composting | Smart News| Smithsonian Magazine
California Has Legalized Human Composting
By 2027, Golden State residents will have the choice to turn their bodies into nutrient-rich compost
September 21, 2022 3:21 p.m. Human composting transforms corpses into nutrient-rich soil. Pixabay
California has joined a growing number of states that allow residents to compost their bodies after death. A new law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, directs California officials to develop regulations for the practice known as natural organic reduction by 2027.
Washington became the first state in the nation to legalize human composting in 2019, followed by Colorado and Oregon in 2021. Vermont legalized the practice in June 2022.
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Human composting typically involves putting a body into a steel vessel, then covering it with organic materials like straw, wood chips and alfalfa. Microbes break down the corpse and the plant matter, transforming the various components into nutrient-rich soil in roughly 30 days. Staffers at special human composting funeral homes then remove the compost from the vessel and allow it to cure for two to six weeks. Family members can then use the human compost like any other type of compost, such as by mixing it into a flower bed, or they can donate it to be spread in conservation areas.
Each body produces about one cubic yard of compost, according to Recompose, a funeral home that specializes in human composting headquartered in Seattle. The soil “returns the nutrients from our bodies to the natural world” and “restores forests, sequesters carbon and nourishes new life,” per the Recompose website.
“Natural organic reduction is safe and sustainable, allowing our bodies to return to the land after we die,” says Katrina Spade, Recompose’s CEO, in a statement, as reported by the Sacramento Bee’s Stephen Hobbs.
Advocates tout human composting as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation, which accounts for more than half of all body dispositions in the United States and is expected to become even more popular over the next few years, according to the Cremation Association of North America.