Washington state may soon become the first in the country to allow its citizens to legally turn their bodies into compost after they die.
State lawmakers passed a bill on Friday, titled “Concerning human remains,” which would create new legal alternatives to cremation and burial. The new options would be natural organic reduction and alkaline hydrolysis, a chemical process also known as “water cremation” where the body is dissolved in a basic solution under heat and pressure.
“It’s about time that ... we allow some technology to be applied to this universal human experience,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Jamie Pedersen. “Both because we think that people should have the freedom to determine for themselves how’d they’d like their body to be disposed of and also because we have learned over time that there are some more environmentally friendly and safe ways of disposing human remains.”
The current main forms of body disposal have a major impact on the environment. Cremating one body releases about 880 pounds of carbon dioxide, and an estimated 5.3 million gallons of harmful embalming fluids are put into the ground through burials each year.
Now it’s up to Governor Jay Inslee to sign the bill into law. If he does, it would then go into effect on May 1, 2020.
If it becomes law, Katrina Spade, CEO of Recompose, will be among the first ready to turn people into soil. She’s been studying human decomposition in soil over the last seven years and has reportedly shown that human compost is in line with federal and state safety standards. Spade hopes to have a facility running by 2020 or 2021, according to the Seattle Times.
Wes McMahan, a retired intensive care nurse who testified on behalf of the bill, told the Times he hopes to have the option to compost his body after he dies.
“When I’m done with this body that served me very well for the past 64 years, do I want to poison it with formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals? No,” said McMahan according to the Times.“Burned? Not my first choice. But what about all the bacteria I’ve worked with so long in this body—do I want to give them a chance to do what they do naturally? I believe in doing things as naturally as possible.”
McMahan said he wants his remains to nourish a strong tree—possibly maple—with a swing that his grandchildren can use.