Human Composting Could Become Legal in California

The process turns human bodies into soil after death
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 12, 2020 2:13 PM CDT
Human Composting Could Become Legal in California
Sarah Chavez poses for a portrait on the grounds of Boston's historic Mount Auburn Cemetery during Death Salon, an event series hosted by The Order of the Good Death, in 2018.   (Bruno Huerta/RNS via AP)

For Sarah Chavez, it’s important her death reflect the beliefs and values that guided her in life. That’s why, instead of having her body buried or cremated, Chavez said she would opt to have her remains turned into soil. Death is a natural process, and to Chavez, director of The Order of the Good Death, a nonprofit that informs the public about their rights and choices surrounding death, this would be not only environmentally friendly but also an act of resistance. But first, at least in California, the human composting process has to become legal. California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat, in late February introduced a piece of legislation that would give legalize it, per a story by Religious News Service distributed by the AP. There has not yet been a hearing, but the California Catholic Conference has already come out against it.

The procedure is seen as a more sustainable alternative to cremation, which requires fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide that pollutes and contributes to climate change. A dead body is broken down through a process known as Natural Organic Reduction by placing the body in a reusable vessel, covering it with wood chips and aerating it, which creates an environment for microbes and essential bacteria. The body, over a span of about 30 days, is fully transformed into soil. The process is modeled after green or natural burials, which avoid using metal or concrete containers and embalming fluids and which are becoming more popular. Human composting will be legal in Washington state in May, but the Catholic Church has denounced it as an undignified way to treat the body. (Read much more here.)

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