California Legalizes Human Composting
Female gardener holding a sapling with soil - stock photo Cropped shot of a female gardener holding a sapling with soil. Close-up of gardener's hands with a young plant at garden center. Luis Alvarez via Getty Images
Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

California has legalized the use of human remains for composting.

On Sunday, Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom signed AB-351, which will permit residents to select to have their remains composted after they die, beginning in 2027.

Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, one of the bill’s architects and its author, implied she might go for the method herself.

“Trees are important carbon breaks for the environment,” Garcia said. “They are the best filters for air quality and if more people participate in organic reduction and tree-planting, we can help with California’s carbon footprint. I look forward to continuing my legacy to fight for clean air by using my reduced remains to plant a tree.”

The bill creates a regulation method for the state with regards to the process.

The method is already legal in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, and incorporates putting the deceased body in a reusable vessel with wood chips around it. It is ventilated in order to allow microorganisms to grow. After around a month, the body decomposes and will become soil, according to SF Gate.

The practice is thought to be a more eco-friendly way to dispose of remains rather than burning them through cremation. Garcia cited climate change as a reason for it.

“AB 351 will provide an additional option for California residents that is more environmentally-friendly and gives them another choice for burial,” Garcia said. “With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”

In a release, Garcia noted that for each person who selects natural organic reduction (NOR) instead of being buried or cremated, the method keeps the same mount as one metric ton of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

The method has not been met without controversy, specifically from the Catholic Church, which has said it “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”

“NOR uses essentially the same process as a home gardening composting system,” Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said in a statement given to SF Gate. She noted that the practice was created for animals, not human beings.

“These methods of disposal were used to lessen the possibility of disease being transmitted by the dead carcass,” she said. “Using these same methods for the ‘transformation’ of human remains can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased.”

The church also noted that the method “risks people treading over human remains without their knowledge while repeated dispersions in the same area are tantamount to a mass grave.”

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