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Washington Becomes the First State To Legalize Composting Human Bodies

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The state of Washington is now the first in the nation to allow composting as a viable alternative to burial or cremation.

On Tuesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation permitting “natural organic reduction” as an acceptable process that licensed facilities can use to dispose of human bodies.

Such facilities would be able to turn a body into soil, mixing it with various substances like wood chips, straw and alfalfa, “in a span of several weeks,” according to The Associated Press.

“Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated,” the AP noted, “or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree.”

The process is similar to “livestock composting,” which some farmers and ranchers use to dispose of dead animals.

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“I think this is great,” Joshua Slocum, director of the public-advocacy group Funeral Consumers Alliance, told The Seattle Times.

“Disposition of the dead, despite our huge emotional associations with it, is not … a matter of public health and public safety.”

“It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death,” Nora Menkin, executive director of the People’s Memorial Association, which is based in Seattle, told the AP.

Composting is better for the environment than cremation or burial, the bill’s supporters say.

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Cremation results in the release of carbon dioxide into the air, while traditional burial takes up large amounts of land.

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the legislation, suggested that composting could be a particularly good option for disposing of loved ones’ remains in cities, where the amount of cemetery land might be limited.

“That’s a serious weight on the earth and the environment as your final farewell,” Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat, told the AP, referring to traditional burial.

The senator credited his neighbor, Katrina Spade, who became interested in the funeral industry while attending the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Spade founded her company, Recompose, as a way to introduce the idea of human composting to the public.

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In an interview last week on NPR’s “Here & Now,” Spade talked about her plans to open a facility where families could conduct services with their loved ones’ bodies, as well as wash the body before the composting process.

“Recompose is going to have rooms in our facility where families can spend a little extra time with the body itself,” Spade said.

“The idea is really for families to do what feels right for them.”

Such a facility would include honeycomb-shaped vessels where families could lay their loved ones’ bodies.

But some who oppose the bill argue that composting human bodies is disrespectful.

Pedersen “said he has received angry emails from people who object to the idea, calling it undignified or disgusting,” according to the AP.

“The image they have is that you’re going to toss Uncle Henry out in the backyard and cover him with food scraps,” the state senator said.

Rob Goff, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association, said Spade discussed the concept at the group’s spring meeting.

Goff said Spade faced critical questions from those in the industry.

“I think some people were fine with it, others were not so fine with it, but it all boils down to personal choice for the families we’re serving,” Goff told The Times.

“People, primarily in Eastern Washington, are interested but not necessarily excited to run out, promote this, and get this product in our market,” he added.

The law officially goes into effect in May 2020.

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