In this Friday, April 19, 2019, photo Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, displays a sample of the compost material left from the decomposition of a cow, using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw, as she poses in a cemetery in Seattle. Washington is set to become the first state to allow the burial alternative known as “natural organic reduction,” that turns a body into soil in a matter of weeks. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Back to Earth: Washington State set to allow ‘human composting’

If signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, the new law would take effect May 1, 2020

Washington State appears set to become the first state to allow a burial alternative known as “natural organic reduction” — an accelerated decomposition process that turns bodies into soil within weeks.

The bill legalizing the process, sometimes referred to as “human composting,” has passed the Legislature and is headed to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

If signed by Inslee, the new law would take effect May 1, 2020. Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said that while the governor’s office is still reviewing the bill, “this seems like a thoughtful effort to soften our footprint” on the Earth.

The measure’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, said that the low environmental impact way to dispose of remains makes sense, especially in crowded urban areas.

The natural organic reduction process yields a cubic yard (0.76 cubic meters) of soil per body — enough to fill about two large wheelbarrows. Pedersen said that the same laws that apply to scattered cremated remains apply to the soil: Relatives can keep the soil in urns, use it to plant a tree on private property or spread it on public land in the state as long as they comply with existing permissions regarding remains.

“It is sort of astonishing that you have this completely universal human experience — we’re all going to die — and here’s an area where technology has done nothing for us. We have the two means of disposing of human bodies that we’ve had for thousands of years, burying and burning,” Pedersen said. “It just seems like an area that is ripe for having technology help give us some better options than we have used.”

Pedersen said an entrepreneurial constituent whose study of the process became her master’s thesis brought the idea to him.

READ MORE: Nearly forgotten B.C. prison cemetery restored

Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose , was a graduate student in architecture at University of Massachusetts Amherst when she came up with the idea — modeling it on a practice farmers have used for decades to dispose of livestock.

She modified that process a bit, and found that the use of wood chips, alfalfa and straw creates a mixture of nitrogen and carbon that accelerates natural decomposition when a body is placed in a temperature and moisture-controlled vessel and rotated.

Six human bodies — all donors who Spade said wanted to be part of this study — were reduced to soil during a pilot project at Washington State University last year. The transformation from body to soil took between four and seven weeks, Spade said.

A price for the service hasn’t yet been set, but the Recompose website states that the company’s “goal is to build a sustainable business to make recomposition a permanent death care option, serve people for decades to come, and make our services available to all who want them.”

According to the Cremation Association of North America, Washington state’s cremation rate is the highest in the nation. More than 78 per cent of those who died in the state in 2017 were cremated, and that number is expected to increase to more than 82 per cent in 2022.

Rob Goff, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association, said his group has been getting questions about the new process, and Spade has been a speaker at a series of recent district meetings of the association.

“To be able to provide more options for people’s choices is a very exciting thing,” he said.

Spade said that she doesn’t want to replace cremation or burial, but instead offer a meaningful alternative that is also environmentally friendly.

“Our goal is to provide something that is as aligned with the natural cycle as possible, but still realistic in being able to serve a good number of families and not take up as much land as burial will,” she said.

Pedersen said he thinks he may still want a marker in a cemetery when he dies, but said he is drawn to the idea of his body taking up less space with a process like natural organic reduction.

“I think it’s really a lovely way of exiting the earth,” he said.

Pederson’s bill also would authorize in Washington state the use of alkaline hydrolysis — already used in 19 other states — which uses heat, pressure, water, and chemicals like lye to reduce remains to components of liquid and bone similar to cremated ashes that can be kept in urns or interred.

Rachel La Corte, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ellis Bird Farm opens 2019 with book unveil of Charlie, Winnie and the Bluebirds

Site Manager Myrna Pearman documented the history of central Alberta’s natural treasure

Lacombe Police Service requests help finding missing person

Melissa Oswell was last seen on May 15th, after walking away from a health facility in Lacombe

Lacombe Composite High School students win gold at Skills Alberta Competition

Camryn Grant and Ben Rainforth will represent Team Alberta at Nationals in Halifax

Lacombe Police joins in on Canada Road Safety Week

1,841 motor vehicle fatalities and 9,960 serious injuries due to motor vehicle collisions in 2017

City of Lacombe council highlights – May 13, 2019

The next scheduled Regular Council Meeting is on May 27th

VIDEO: LCHS Hair Massacure supports children’s charities

Event supports kids living with cancer

Growing wildfire prompts warning for High Level to prepare for evacuation

Town of High Level announced Monday that residents should get personal items in order

Carbon tax, desk-thumping on agenda in upcoming Alberta legislature session

Jason Kenney has appointed a panel to come up with ways to reduce spending in the budget this fall

Facebook takes down anti-vaxxer page that used image of late Canadian girl

Facebook said that the social media company has disabled the anti-vaccination page

Authorities warn out-of-control wildfire could cut northern Alberta town’s electricity

Alberta Transportation has closed Highway 35 south of High Level due to the fire

‘Rope-a-dope’: Environmentalists say Alberta war room threat won’t distract them

Those against Alberta Premier Jason Kenney aren’t worried about promise to fight critics of energy industry

Almost $13 million to be paid to Grande Prairie hospital subcontractors, others

No reasons for the Court of Queen’s Bench order were released

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Speed, alcohol considered factors in deadly Calgary crash: police

Two female passengers in the Corolla, aged 31 and 65, died at the scene

Most Read