Washington could become the first state to legalize human composting

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Olivia Alvord, Staff Writer

 

Washington could become the first state to allow the option of human composting instead of the traditional routes of burial or cremation. According to NBC News, “This re-composition bill would also make Washington the 17th state to allow alkaline hydrolysis-the dissolving of bodies in a pressurized vessel with water and lye until just liquid and bone remains.” Additionally, the re-composition option provides another alternative to the expensive costs of internment. Sen. Pedersen stated that not allowing the option for re-composition is both a cost and an environmental concern. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, “re-compositing aims to charge $5,500 for its services, while a traditional burial generally cost more than $7,000 in 2017.” This limits funeral preparation for families who are struggling financially, or just simply cannot afford much after a loved one has passed without the proper preparations.

This bill will provide more options for the disposing of human remains in Washington. The process of reducing human remains to compost involves putting a non-embalmed body into a vessel which also has organic material in it such as, wood chips, straw, and alfalfa. Air then moves freely into the vessel to provide oxygen, which accelerates the activity. The procedure ultimately speeds up the decomposition process, where the remains are then returned to the family. It is similar to the idea of cremation, but is more affordable and good for the environment. A traditional burial of human remains release chemicals into the ground. In addition, cremation releases carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change. Re-composition is environmentally friendly and a new way to help save the environment even after you are gone. The whole process takes about one month, and the human remains are then “reduced to a cubic yard of compost that can be used to grow new plants, etc.,” as reported by NBC News.

The initiative for the allowance of human composting originated from a Seattle-native and local designer, Katrina Spade. Spade’s original design for this initiative was “to design a system that would restore people’s connection to death and its aftermath, which has been severed in part by the funeral industry,” as stated by NBC News. She eventually found her way to human composting after a close friend introduced her to the popular practice of composting livestock in the farming industry after they die. Another reason behind this initiative is the lack of options people in the U.S. have when it comes to funeral preparations. She stated to NBC News, “We really only have two easily accessible options in the U.S., cremation and burial, and the question is: why do we only have two options, and what would it look like if we had a dozen?” The bill has been sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who told NBC News, “that people from all over the state have wrote to me about how very excited they are about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves.”

Recompositing will continue to improve as Spade founded her corporation Recompose in 2017, to be able to expand her research on the concept. Through Washington State University, Recompose sponsored a pilot, five-month program that concluded in August of last year. The research found that the re-composition process of human remains was safe and those results will be out for publication sometime in 2019. Once released, this research could help aid the Washington state legislature in the decision to become the first state to legalize human composting. Previously, Sen. Pedersen’s bill that was introduced in 2017, failed. Some say this was because of the lack of approval from the Catholic Church or that it failed to include re-composition in addition to alkaline hydrolysis. According to NBC News, “some said that the church was concerned about dissolved human remains draining into sewers” but others, like Sen. Michael Baumgartner, said that it was just a focus on other issues and solutions that year. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this process plays out in the Capitol building.

 

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