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Washington Becomes First State To Allow Human Composting

Study found the soil "smelled like soil and nothing else."

 Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 2, 2019 in Washington, DC.
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The State of Washington is now officially offering a third option for how residents can handle the bodies of loved ones after they've passed on: they can be turned into compost.

 

On Tuesday, the state's Democratic Governor, Jay Inslee, signed SB 5001 "concerning human remains" into law, which includes composting along with burials and cremations as a means of handling human remains. The law — the first of its kind in the U.S. — will go into effect on May 1, 2020.

The state's House and Senate both passed the bill with bipartisan support and overwhelming majorities, and Inslee signed it into law after a trial study found that the process (also called "liquid cremation") resulted in soil that "smelled like soil and nothing else," Fox News reports.

The Washington Senate describes the "liquid cremation" process in its final bill report: "Alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction are added as allowable reduction methods for handling deceased persons' bodies for their disposition. Alkaline hydrolysis is the reduction of human remains to bone fragments and essential elements in a licensed hydrolysis facility using heat, pressure, water, and base chemical agents. Natural organic reduction is the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil."

The bodies are "mixed with substances like wood chips into about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks," Fox explains. The resulting compost can then be used by loved ones.

"Subject to the terms of the document of gift and the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, a person that accepts an anatomical gift of an entire body may allow embalming, burial, alkaline hydrolysis, natural organic reduction, and use of remains in a funeral service," the senate report explains (excerpt below).

 

"It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death," said People's Memorial Association Executive Dir. Nora Menkin, Fox reports.

The bill specifies that "a license or endorsement is required in order to operate a crematory or conduct a cremation, operate or conduct alkaline hydrolysis, operate or conduct natural organic reduction, or operate a natural organic reduction facility." The procedure has been estimated to cost around $5,500.

The new law "paves the way for Recompose, a project to build the first urban 'organic reduction' funeral home in the country," The Seattle Times reports. "Washington already has several 'green cemeteries,' such as White Eagle Memorial Preserve in Klickitat County, where people can be buried without embalming, caskets or headstones. The Recompose model is more like an urban crematorium (bodies go in, remains come out), but using the slower, less carbon-intensive means of 'organic reduction,' or composting."

 

The amended version of the bill passed in the House by a vote of 80-16 and the Senate by a vote of 38-11.

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Relevant excerpt from the final bill report:

Alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction are added as allowable reduction methods for handling deceased persons' bodies for their disposition. Alkaline hydrolysis is the reduction of human remains to bone fragments and essential elements in a licensed hydrolysis facility using heat, pressure, water, and base chemical agents. Natural organic reduction is the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.

A license or endorsement is required in order to operate a crematory or conduct a cremation, operate or conduct alkaline hydrolysis, operate or conduct natural organic reduction, or operate a natural organic reduction facility.

Subject to the terms of the document of gift and the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, a person that accepts an anatomical gift of an entire body may allow embalming, burial, alkaline hydrolysis, natural organic reduction, and use of remains in a funeral service.

The Inspector's inspection authority is modified to entering the premises or place of business, where funeral directing, embalming, alkaline hydrolysis, or natural organic reduction is carried on for the purpose of inspection.

Various statutes governing the final disposition of human remains, handling and scattering of the remains, and the operation of facilities that offer these services are amended to include alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction. Generally, the amendments include adding alkaline hydrolysis, natural organic reduction, final disposition, and related terms in a similar manner to cremation terms. The term human remains is modified. Technical changes are made.

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