I’ll be ‘loam’ for Xmas: Washington State considers ‘recomposition’ as burial alternative

January 2, 2018

It’s not “dirt cheap”—but it is less expensive than either burial or cremation. It’s also less damaging to the environment, which is probably among the reasons that the trend is starting on the West Coast.

Washington could soon become the first state to allow another after-death option: human composting, according to a report by NBC News.

The innovative approach, known as “recomposition,” involves placing bodies in a vessel and hastening their decomposition into a nutrient-dense soil that can then be returned to families. The aim is a less expensive way of dealing with human remains that is better for the environment than burial, which can leach chemicals into the ground, or cremation, which releases earth-warming carbon dioxide.

“People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves,” State Senator Jamie Pedersen (District 43), a Democrat, who is sponsoring a bill to expand the options for disposing of human remains, told the network news outlet.

 The recomposition bill would make Washington the 17th state to allow alkaline hydrolysis, the dissolving of bodies in a pressurized vessel with water and lye until just liquid and bone remains. Pedersen plans to introduce the bill when the new legislative session begins next month.

Specifically, NBC reports, the somewhat creepy process involves placing unembalmed human remains wrapped in a shroud in a 5-foot-by-10-foot cylindrical vessel with a bed of organic material such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Air is then periodically pulled into the vessel, providing oxygen to accelerate microbial activity. Within approximately one month, the remains are reduced to a cubic yard of compost that can be used to grow new plants.

The safety of the process depends on maintaining a temperature of 131 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 consecutive hours to destroy pathogens. However, some pathogens are known to survive composting so, for the sake of safety people with certain illnesses would be excluded.

Pedersen believes that legalizing recomposition would benefit people who can’t afford a funeral or aren’t comfortable with cremation, NBC reports. Recompose aims to charge $5,500 for its services, while a traditional burial generally cost more than $7,000 in 2017, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. (Cremation can cost less than $1,000, though that doesn’t include a service or an urn.)

Research contact: @teakettle22

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