(CNN) Lawmakers in Washington state passed a bill Friday that would allow human remains to be composted.
If Gov. Jay Inslee signs Senate Bill 5001 into law, it will take effect May 1, 2020. Right now, if a person dies in Washington, the body can only be cremated or buried, according to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jamie Pedersen. The bill gives people a third option for disposing of human remains: recomposition. The process of recomposition essentially turns dead bodies into soil, a practice colloquially known as “human composting.” According to the bill’s language, this is the practice of “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”
“It’s about time we apply some technology, allow some technology, to be applied to this universal human experience both because we think that people should have the freedom to determine for themselves how they’d like their body to be disposed of and also because we have learned over time that there are some more environmentally friendly and safe ways of disposing of human remains,” Pedersen said in February.
How human composting works
Katrina Spade is the CEO of the human composting company, Recompose, and told CNN affiliate KIRO-TV she is hoping her company can be one of the first to build a facility for the practice.
She explained to KIRO the complex process of turning a dead body into soil.
“(The) body is covered in natural materials, like straw or wood chips, and over the course of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil,” she said.
While the dead body is being broken down, Spade said families of the deceased will be able to visit her facility and will ultimately receive the soil that remains of their loved. It is up to the family how they want to use that soil, Spade said.
“And if they don’t want that soil, we’ll partner with local conservation groups around the Puget Sound region so that that soil will be used to nourish the land here in the state,” she said.
Life after death: Recompose, a soil-based alternative to burial and cremation
Recompose — which would convert human remains to soil — is still just a concept. But it’s approaching reality, with scientific testing done at Washington State University and legislative support in Olympia.
Recompose, founded in 2014 under the name Urban Death Project, started as just a strange, daunting idea. Could Spade engineer a way that allowed people, especially people in cities, to bypass the expense and toxicity of the traditional funeral industry (with its embalming fluids, varnished caskets and carbon-heavy cremation) and let their bodies naturally decompose — perhaps in one building like a funeral home/crematorium, where bodies become soil instead of ashes?
Baker, 84, lives in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood and is an enthusiastic supporter of Recompose, an emerging death-care alternative to traditional cremation and burial. Instead of going up in flames or into a graveyard, Baker wants her body taken to a future Recompose facility, placed in a bed of plant matter (mostly wood chips and straw) and, in a process taking roughly 30 days, decomposed into dark, nutrient-rich soil.
“The kids tease me about it. But that’s such a better way to say goodbye than shooting a bunch of carbon into the atmosphere,” said Baker, who founded the climate change-focused Edwards Mother Earth Foundation.