Washington bill would make it legal to compost human remains into soil

Recomposting would let people skip traditional burial and cremation practices for a greener option.

A computer-rendered vision of what a Recompose facility would look like.


Would you prefer to be cremated or buried in a casket? Washington might give residents an additional option if it becomes the first US state to legalize an unusual end-of-life practice — composting human remains.

“Recomposting” — which advertises as more environmentally friendly than traditional funeral practices — is a process where a human body is quickly decomposed using heat-loving microbes and beneficial bacteria.

The temperature is kept at 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 Celsius) for 72 consecutive hours. The remains are then added into soil that can be used as mulch for trees, flowers and other plants.

Washington State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat, plans to introduce a recomposting bill in January, NBC reports.

If passed, the bill would legalize recomposting in Washington so citizens could choose an alternative to the traditional methods of burial and cremation of human remains.

The Seattle company Recompose would be responsible for the actual composting of human bodies. 

In 2017, Pederson introduced a similar bill but says it failed due to opposition from religious groups, according to NBC.

Neither Sen. Pedersen or Recompose, the company that would be responsible for the actual composting of human bodies, responded to a request for comment.

“The transformation of human to soil happens inside our reusable, hexagonal recomposition vessels,” the Recompose website says. “When the process has finished, families will be able to take home some of the soil created, while gardens on-site will remind us that all of life is interconnected.”

During the recomposting process, bodies are screened for non-organic materials like metal teeth fillings, pacemakers and artificial limbs, which are recycled whenever possible.

The entire process takes a month, and can produce a cubic yard of soil per person, according to Recompose.

While this may sound ideal to people wanting an environmental-friendly option to burial, not everyone can go through the recomposting process. Some pathogens (like the bacteria that causes anthrax) may be resistant to the composting process, so people with certain health conditions may be ineligible.

While recomposting has yet to be made legal in the US, “green burials” (bury human bodies without chemicals) are legal in all 50 states. Currently, recomposting a human body is legal in Sweden.

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