Washington has become the first US state to allow human bodies to be turned into compost, rather than being buried or cremated.
Governor Jay Inslee signed into law a bill making it legal for licensed facilities to offer “natural organic reduction”, which turns a body, mixed with substances such as wood chips and straw, into soil in a span of just several weeks.
The process is based on that of “livestock composting” which has been used by farmers for several years.
Washington already has several “green” cemeteries, where people can be buried without embalming, caskets or headstones.
One person hoping to profit from the new law is Katina Spade, founder and CEO of the company Recompose.
On its website it says that “our service – recomposition – gently converts human remains into soil, so that we can nourish new life after we die.
“Our modular system uses nature’s principles to return our bodies to the earth, sequestering carbon and improving soil health. In fact, we’ve calculated carbon savings over a metric tonne per person.”
A test on the system was carried out in 2018 on the remains of six terminally ill people who donated their bodies for the research.
The results, according to Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University, was clean, rich, odourless soil that passed all federal and state safety guidelines for potentially hazardous pathogens and pollutants such as metals.
Human composting is by no means a new phenomenon, although for thousands of years religious and cultural beliefs in different parts of the world lead to methods for the preservation of the bodies of the departed, rather than allowing them to return to nature.
However, in recent years concerns over the environmental costs of such practices have lead to increased interest in human composting.
In Sweden, where it has been legal since 2005, one method used is to freeze dry the body then vibrate it gently to shatter it into a fine powder that is then placed in a shallow grave and is absorbed into the soil.