- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Washington has become the first state to legalize “green funerals” — the process of mixing human remains with straw and wood chips and placing them in soil to help grow flowers and trees.

The Washington-based firm Recompose has pioneered human composting, which has been hailed as more affordable and environmentally friendly than caskets or cremation — America’s most popular form of burial.

“The idea of returning to earth resonates with many different faiths around the world,” Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, told The Washington Times. “And nature is really good at death.”

Some opposition to the new law came from the Catholic Church, which argued that the composting technique fails to follow church doctrine on the treatment of the dead.

But Washington state’s association of funeral directors supported the initiative, echoing sentiments expressed by the National Funeral Directors Association that the method offers environmental benefits at lower costs.

Criticism over the waste associated with funerals has been on the rise for years.

Cremation relies largely on natural gas and releases toxic pollutants and particulates into the air, while conventional burials involve formaldehyde and other chemicals to preserve bodies, which then are placed into almost indestructible coffins that take up land.

U.S. burial costs range widely, with traditional casket-to-plot costs averaging more than $8,000, with cremation costing roughly $6,000.

Human composting involves placing bodies in “vessels” and using straw and wood chips to create about two wheelbarrows of soil within a month. It costs $5,500, including the price of the required legal paperwork.

Because of the potential benefits offered by “green funerals,” the National Funeral Directors Association is on record as saying most of its members are interested in exploring such options for burial.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee made the move last week, signing into law a proposal to legalize human composting and another process sometimes called liquid cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis, which involves using heat, pressure, water and chemicals to process remains.

According to The Associated Press, alkaline hydrolysis is available in at least 19 states.

Washington’s law will go into effect next May and will include regulations for the process of licensing composting facilities.

Ms. Spade, an anthropologist and architect by training, studied the process at Washington State University with six bodies of people who had donated their remains to the research. In 2014 she founded the Urban Death Project amid her studies about the limitations of traditional burials.

She told The Times the idea for composting humans came from a friend who discussed developments in the decomposition of cows, which employed wood chips, alfalfa and straw.

In a TED talk she delivered last year, Ms. Spade highlighted the core of her philosophy: “When organisms die in nature, microbes and bacteria break them down into nutrient-rich soil, completing the life cycle. In nature, death creates life.”

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