Human Composting Now an Option in a 6th State

Burial method, becoming popular with the eco-conscious, is legal in New York
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 1, 2023 11:05 AM CST
New York Is 6th State to OK Human Composting
This 2019 photo shows Howard Irwin Fischer in Vermont. Fischer is one supporter who sees human composting as an eco-friendly way to return his remains to the earth as fresh, fertile soil when he dies.   (Randee Fischer via AP)

Howard Fischer, a 63-year old investor living north of New York City, has a wish for when he dies. He wants his remains to be placed in a vessel, broken down by tiny microbes and composted into rich, fertile soil. Fischer now should be able to have his wish come true in his home state: Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation on Saturday to legalize natural organic reduction, popularly known as human composting, making New York the sixth state in the nation to allow that method of burial. Washington state became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, followed by Colorado and Oregon in 2021, and Vermont and California in 2022.

  • The process: The body of the deceased is placed into a reusable vessel along with plant material such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. The organic mix creates the perfect habitat for naturally occurring microbes to do their work, breaking down the body in about a month's time. The end result is a heaping cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil amendment, the equivalent of about 36 bags of soil, that can be used to plant trees or enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens. For urban areas such as New York City where land is limited, it can be seen as a pretty attractive burial alternative.

  • In favor: Katrina Spade, the founder of Recompose, a full-service green funeral home in Seattle, said it offers an alternative for people wanting to align the disposition of their remains with how they lived their lives. “Cremation uses fossil fuels and burial uses a lot of land and has a carbon footprint,” said Spade. “For a lot of folks being turned into soil that can be turned to grow into a garden or tree is pretty impactful.”
  • Opposed: The New York State Catholic Conference, a group that represents bishops in the state, calls the burial method inappropriate. “A process that is perfectly appropriate for returning vegetable trimmings to the earth is not necessarily appropriate for human bodies,” said Dennis Poust, executive director of the organization. “Human bodies are not household waste, and we do not believe that the process meets the standard of reverent treatment of our earthly remains."
(More burial stories.)

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