California has just become the fifth state in the US to legalize the composting of human bodies, a planet-friendly — and, yes, gruesome-sounding — alternative to the toxic process of cremation.
As The Los Angeles Times and other outlets reported, CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill passed by the state assembly into law over the weekend, though human composting won’t become a burial option in the Golden State until 2027.
California follows the likeminded states of Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Colorado in paving the way for human composting, though in at least one of those, the practice is already well underway and attracting people from out-of-state.
In an interview with The Guardian, Micah Truman, the founder and CEO of Seattle’s Return Home funeral service that specializes in green burial processes like human composting, said that he’s had people bring the bodies of their loved ones from 12 different states to be “terramated,” which is the term Truman and others like him use to describe the process.
“You can put whatever you want in there and say goodbye to them in a way that feels good,” Truman told The Stranger in an interview last year. “I think that will matter.”
Beyond turning bodies into soil-nourishing fertilizer, human composting has the added benefit of being significantly better for than environment than cremation, which emits roughly one metric ton of carbon per body burned. This was one of the key selling points for assembly member Cristina Garcia, who tried twice before to pass a human composting bill in California before succeeding on her third try.
“With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere,” Garcia said in a statement after Newsom signed the bill into law.
Though it’s not the first state to move towards legalizing human composting, California is home to pioneering “death-positive” activist and former Los Angeles funeral director Caitlin Doughty, whose Order of the Good Death organization has since 2011 spurred conversation surrounding the funeral industry and the harms it causes.
As both the Order of the Good Death and other human composting advocates have noted, the practice also has the added benefit of costing the same or less than other funerary options, median prices running $6,000 for the most bare-bones cremation and $7,200 or more for the cheapest casket funerals.
By contract, human composting costs between $5,000 and $7,000, and the process that will be allowed in California — placing bodies in steel boxes with wood chips, flowers, and other biodegradable materials for one to two months before the body breaks down into soil that is then given to the deceased’s loved ones — sounds much tidier than having a bunch of ashes sitting in one’s home.
Beyond the reduction in both costs and emissions, human composting also offers families a chance to return their loved ones to the Earth.
As norms surrounding death and dying continue to change, so too will the way we handle our dead — and doing so in ways that can help, rather than harm, the planet while also feeling in touch with the organic matter around us does, indeed, sound like a “good death.”
READ MORE: California’s dead will have a new burial option: Human composting [The Los Angeles Times]
More on death: Famed Director Dies by Assisted Suicide