On Tuesday, Washington became the first state to legalize composting as a method of dealing with human remains, an alternative to traditional burial or cremation. The Associated Press reports that the legislation, now signed by Governor Jay Inslee, will allow facilities licensed to do so to provide “natural organic reduction” as a service. That process, per the AP, “turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks.” The law goes into effect in May 2020.
Just as loved ones are permitted to distribute the ashes of a cremated person, those opting for natural organic reduction will be allowed to leave with the soil to spread or sprinkle. Or, as an option, they can use it to grow a tree, or flowers, or a nice tomato patch or something, which Nora Menkin, executive director of the People’s Memorial Association, told the AP “gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death.”
There’s more on the process itself, why its supporters describe it as environmentally friendly, and the origins for the idea in the AP piece, which is worth a read. It includes mention of “green” burials, offered across the country, which involve biodegradable caskets or shrouds; Katrina Spade, whose work inspired the legislation, calls the natural organic reduction process “the urban equivalent to natural burial.”
For more on what that process might look like, you can visit the FAQ for Recompose, the company Spade founded; it includes an image of the facility the company imagines, which loved ones will be able to visit during the process. It is not, as the Seattle legislator who sponsored the bill told the AP, what the bill’s angry opponents imagine, which he described as “that you’re going to toss Uncle Henry out in the backyard and cover him with food scraps.”
So. What do you want to be planted in your you-dirt, after you die?