The funeral is dead, and this ground is fertile for human composting
Washington state set to legalise human composting amid calls for environmentally friendly after-death services
Washington state is on the verge of becoming the first in the US to allow humans to be turned into compost, amid a surge in demand for sustainable and “positive” funeral services.
The bill, expected to be signed into law in days, legalises two sustainable body-disposal options: a chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis and a natural process of organic reduction.
Jay Inslee, the 68-year-old Democrat governor of Washington, nicknamed the “Evergreen State”, announced his bid for the presidency last month, highlighting his environmental record as governor as he pitched himself as the only candidate committed to making tackling climate change their first priority in office.
Proponents of the human composting bill say an environmentally friendly after-death service is badly needed with an ageing population and as an alternative to costly burials. One of those lobbying for the law change was Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, who says the Seattle-based company plans to use wood chips, alfalfa and straw to turn bodies into a cubic yard of top soil in a month. The soil can then be used by relatives to nourish plants and trees in their gardens. The company claims their natural recomposition process equates to more than one metric ton in carbon emissions savings per person.
“It is an understandable tendency to limit the amount of time we spend contemplating our after-death choices, but environmental realities are pressing us to develop alternatives to chemical embalming, carbon-generating cremation and the massive land use requirements of traditional cemeteries,” she said.
Spade said her company was “overjoyed” to be able to launch in Washington soon and “a future where every human death helps create healthy soil and heal the planet”.
The idea is likely to gain appeal as the US faces a sharp rise in deaths as the baby-boomer generation ages. According to the US Census Bureau, the annual death rate is projected to reach more than 3.6 million by 2037, one million more than in 2015, and the country’s mortality rate will continue to “increase dramatically every year” until 2055.
The alternative death-care movement has already experienced a boom in companies offering non-traditional services, from turning ashes into jewellery to hosting life “celebration” parties instead of funeral services.Amy Pickard started up Good to Go, a death planning “party service”, in Los Angeles after the sudden death of her mother in 2012 left her wishing for a “manual” to help her navigate the emotional and financial upheaval. “[People] are a lot more enabled to do whatever [they] want for a life celebration or funeral. There are no rules in 2019,” she said.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)