Washington Becomes The First U.S. State To Legalize Human Composting

A worker holds finished compost at the Jepson Prairie Organics compost facility.
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

According to the Seattle Times, Washington became the first state to legalize human composting on Tuesday when Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5001, a bill that would recognize “natural organic reduction” as a legal way to dispose of bodies.

The process in question works similarly to composting in that a human body is placed in a container with other organic components, such as straw and wood, where it decomposes naturally over the span of about four weeks. The method provides an alternative to cremation and burial, which often involve a combination of embalming, caskets, and headstones.

The organic reduction process is much slower but also less carbon-intensive, allowing a body to decompose into clean, odorless soil in a matter of weeks.

The law provides the opportunity for projects such as Recompose, whose goal is to build the first urban “organic reduction” funeral home in the country, to take shape. Recompose would use a crematorium model to dispose of human bodies but utilize composting methods.

Recompose has already run studies to test the composting process of human bodies. In the summer of 2018, with the help of six terminally ill people who donated their bodies to the project, the group was able to develop a method to turn the bodies into clean, nutrient-rich, odorless soil that passed all federal and state safety guidelines for potentially hazardous pathogens and pollutants.

Joshua Slocum, director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national public-advocacy group based in Vermont, commented on Washington’s decision to pass the law.

“In this country, we have a massively dysfunctional relationship with death, which does not make good principles for public policy…It’s a real tough thing for people to get their minds around, and a lot of our state laws stand in the way of people returning to simple, natural, uncomplicated, inexpensive ways of doing things.”

Loading...

Washington already has several “green cemeteries,” where people can be buried without embalming, caskets or headstones, an alternative that allows bodies to naturally decompose without the process being inhibited by other factors.

By late 2020, Recompose hopes to have their first facility up and running with vessels for 20-25 individual people. Designer Katrina Spade, who dreamed up the project, commented to the local newspaper that she feels so happy about the law passing and can’t believe her project will finally have the legal grounds to become a reality.

“I can’t believe we’ve come all this way, but here we are.”