New York allows composting of human bodies

A general view of a series of composting tanks at Recompose's facility in Seattle

US composting companies like Recompose – in Seattle – say the process is an environmentally friendly option after death

New York has become the last US state to allow so-called human composting.

A person can now turn their body into earth after death – which is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to burial or cremation.

This practice, also known as “natural organic reduction,” involves decomposing the body for several weeks after being sealed in a container.

In 2019, Washington was the first US state to legalize it. Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and California followed suit.

New York is thus the sixth U.S. jurisdiction to allow human composting, following Saturday’s approval from Kathy Hochul, the state’s Democratic governor.

The process takes place in special above-ground facilities.

The body is placed in a closed vessel along with selected materials, such as wood chips, alfalfa and straw, and gradually decomposes under the influence of microbes.

After a period of about a month – and a heating process to kill any infection – loved ones receive the resulting soil. This can be used to plant flowers, vegetables or trees.

One US company, Recompose, said its service could save a ton of carbon compared to cremation or a traditional burial.

Carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change as they trap the Earth’s heat in a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect.

Traditional coffin burials also consume wood, soil, and other natural resources.

Proponents of human composting argue that it is not only a greener option, but also a more practical option in cities where cemeteries are scarce.

New York’s approval of the process was “a huge step towards making green death care available nationwide,” one Washington-based provider, Return Home, told the New York Post.

But for some, there are ethical questions about what happens to the composted soil.

Catholic bishops in New York state reportedly opposed the bill, arguing that human bodies should not be treated as “domestic waste.”

Concerns have also been raised about the cost of composting. But Recompose – whose Seattle facility is one of the world’s first – says the $7,000 (¬£5,786) fee is “comparable” to competing options.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the average US total for a burial funeral was $7,848 in 2021, or $6,971 for a cremation funeral.

Human composting is now legal throughout Sweden. And natural burials – where the body is buried without a coffin or with a biodegradable coffin – are allowed in the UK.

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