New York State has passed a law that legalizes the composting of human bodies after death. The practice is formally referred to as “natural organic reduction” and is seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to more traditional burials.
New York is the sixth state to legalize human composting since 2019. The green burial process was legalized by Governor Kathy Hochul.
Washington was the first US state to allow the composting of human bodies. It is also legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California.
How does human composting work?
The process of human composting follows a specific procedure that occurs in purpose-built, above-ground facilities. The corpse is placed in a closed vessel together with certain materials, such as woodchips, alfalfa, and straw grass.
After approximately one month, the microbes contained in the vessel break down and decompose the body. A heating process is also carried out to destroy any contagion. The family of the deceased then receives the soil, which can be used to safely grow flowers and plants.
“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,” commented Michelle Menter, the manager at Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve in central New York.
“Cremation uses fossil fuels and burial uses a lot of land and has a carbon footprint,” said Katrina Spade, another proponent of human composting. Spade is the founder of Recompose, a green funeral home in Seattle that already offers to compost the deceased.
Advocates for green burials also claim that this method can help to save space in crowded cemeteries, especially in densely populated urban areas. A Washington-based provider of human composting said that its legalization in New York is “a huge step for accessible green death care nationwide.”
The move to legalize the process has not been met with universal acceptance. Some groups, particularly those belonging to certain religious organizations, opposed the legalization of human composting.
The New York State Catholic Conference disapproves of the measure and told church attendees that they should pressure Governor Hochul to veto the bill. Dennis Proust, the executive director of the Catholic organization said, “A process that is perfectly appropriate for returning vegetable trimmings to the earth is not necessarily appropriate for human bodies.”
Proust added that “human bodies are not household waste, and we do not believe that the process meets the standard of reverent treatment of our earthly remains.”
Concerns have also been raised about the costs associated with the process. Recompose, which offers the composting option in Seattle, has said that it costs seven thousand dollars to dispose of a body in this way.