New York became one of six states to legalize “human composting” after Governor Kathy Hochul signed Bill A382 into law on December 31.
Human composting, also known as natural organic reduction or terramation, is the process of decomposing a human corpse into compost by enclosing the body in a semi-open box filled with wood chips, alfalfa, or straw.
Within six to eight weeks, each composted body will produce “a heaped cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil, equivalent to 36 bags of soil,” according to the Guardian.
Human composting is a relatively new phenomenon. Washington was the first state to legalize the practice in 2019. Within three years, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, and now New York have followed suit.
The idea of human composting was first brought to the general public by Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, a Seattle-based company that composts the deceased for $7,000.
“Human composting uses 87% less energy than traditional burial or cremation,” reads Recompose’s website. “Each year, about 3 million people die in the U.S. Cremation burns fossil fuels and emits carbon dioxide and particulates into the atmosphere.”
“Conventional burial consumes valuable urban land, pollutes the soil, and contributes to climate change,” Recompose asserts.
Michelle Menter, the manager at Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve in New York, applauded the move by Hochul and said the cemetery would consider implementing the practice.
“Every single thing we can do to turn people away from concrete liners and fancy caskets and embalming, we ought to do and be supportive of,” argued Menter.
Dennis Poust, the executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops on legislative issues, urged Hochul, who is also Catholic, to veto the bill.
“A process that is perfectly appropriate for returning vegetable trimmings to the earth is not necessarily appropriate for human bodies,” said Poust in a statement.
Poust noted that “human bodies are not household waste, and we do not believe that the process meets the standard of reverent treatment for our earthly remains.”
On the flip side, Hochul was sent numerous cards from “Order of the Good Death,” a human compost advocacy group, which urged her to sign the bill into law. The cards read “Compost Me” or “I Want to be a Tree When I Die. Ask me how.”
“For a lot of folks being turned into soil that can be turned to grow into a garden or tree is pretty impactful,” argued Spade.
Human composting bills have been introduced in several states, such as Delaware, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. These bills are still in progress. In Hawaii and Maine, bills regarding this controversial “death care” practice failed to pass.
Currently, Texas outlaws human composting and has yet to introduce any legislation on the matter.