WebMD News Brief

California to Allow Composting of Human Remains

photo of funeral service

Sept. 22, 2022 -- California will join a growing number of states allowing people to have their remains composted, under a new law signed this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The process is called natural organic reduction. A corpse is put into a steel vessel and covered with wood chips, alfalfa, straw and other materials until it decomposes, the Sacramento Bee explained. Remains go to family members or into soil in a conservation area.

Washington was the first state to allow the practice, followed by Colorado and Oregon. California must come up with regulations by 2027.

“The wildfires, extreme drought and heat dome we just experienced remind us that climate change is real and detrimental, and we must do everything we can to reduce methane and CO2 emissions,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bell Garden Democrat who co-introduced the proposal.

It takes about six to eight weeks for a human body to turn into soil, says Recompose, a funeral home in Seattle that charges $7,000 for the service.

A body produces about a cubic yard of compost, Recompose says. The soil “returns the nutrients from our bodies to the natural world” and “restores forests, sequesters carbon and nourishes new life.”

“Natural organic reduction is safe and sustainable, allowing our bodies to return to the land after we die,” said CEO Katrina Spade.

Advocates of the process say it’s more environmentally friendly than cremation, which accounts for more than half of all “body dispositions” in the United States, the Smithsonian magazine reported. Some estimates say each cremation releases more than 500 pounds of carbon dioxide, creating 360,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas each year.

Burials also can harm the environment when embalming fluids can leach into the soil.

Show Sources

Sacramento Bee: “California will allow human composting as alternative to cremation or burial.”

Smithsonian: “California Has Legalized Human Composting.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info