Burial, cremation, or…compost?

  • Friday, February 15, 2019 10:11am
  • News

By Emma Scher

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA — Giving a whole new meaning to “pushing up daisies,” Washington residents might be able to compost their bodies into soil when they die.

House Bill 1162 would legalize two environmentally-conscious options for body disposition — recomposition and alkaline hydrolysis.

Through recomposition, also known as natural organic reduction, dead bodies are covered with such materials as wood chips and straw and microbes transform the body into about a cubic yard of soil over the course of several weeks.

The soil is molecularly transformed from human remains and could be used in gardens or saved in a receptacle.

If the legislation is approved, Washington would be the first state to legalize this method of body disposition.

Recompose is a company founded to make natural organic reduction an option available to the public.

It recently sponsored a study at Washington State University, which tested the safety and efficacy of the process.

According to its founder Katrina Spade, natural organic reduction is more sustainable than burial or cremation, which emits more fossil fuels.

“It’s understandable to want to limit the amount of time we spend thinking about death care, but environmental realities are pressing us to come up with alternatives,” Spade said. “It’s become very clear that our state’s residents want more choice when it comes to the end of life.”

Other processes

Alkaline hydrolysis is the second body decomposition process the bill would legalize.

According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, alkaline hydrolysis is a kind of “green cremation” that reduces human remains into bone fragments using an alkali solution of potassium hydroxide in a quiet, controlled environment.

It is currently legal in 16 states, including Oregon, California and Colorado.

In 2016, the Catholic Church instructed that bodies should be disposed of by burial or cremation if the ashes are buried, not scattered or kept.

The bill heard opposition from the Washington State Catholic Conference, which represents views of the five Catholic bishops in the state.

“It boils down to issues of dignity for each person and their remains,” said Luke Esser, a lobbyist for the Catholic Conference. “This bill fails to ensure that these emerging technologies do show sufficient respect for the bodies.”

HB 1162 would not require anyone to utilize natural organic reduction or alkaline hydrolysis, but provide the processes as alternatives to cremation or burial.

A substitute bill was voted out of committee with a do-pass recommendation.

The substitute bill removed the language of recomposition, and replaced it with “natural organic reduction.”

Its companion bill passed the full Senate on Feb. 6.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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