“I think it’s really a lovely way of exiting the Earth.”
Democratic legislators in Washington State last week voted to legalize the composting of human bodies in the name of fighting climate change.
By signing the bill into law, Gov. Jay Islee would make Washington the first state to allow “natural organic reduction,” which is inspired by the way farmers dispose of dead livestock. It would go into effect on May 1, 2020.
The process accelerates the decomposition of human remains, transforming them into soil in just a few weeks. One body can generate a cubic yard of soil, enough to fill two large wheelbarrows.
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Inslee, a Democratic presidential candidate, has said he is reviewing the proposed legislation. A spokesperson indicated the governor was impressed with the idea, saying: “This seems like a thoughtful effort to soften our footprint.”
Democratic Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, who sponsored the bill, told CBC that natural organic reduction is especially promising for crowded metropolitan areas.
“It is sort of astonishing that you have this completely universal human experience — we’re all going to die — and here’s an area where technology has done nothing for us, We have the two means of disposing of human bodies that we’ve had for thousands of years, burying and burning,” he said.
“It just seems like an area that is ripe for having technology help give us some better options than we have used.”
Peterson suggested that loved ones of the deceased could keep the soil made from the body in urns, use it to grow a tree, or spread it on public lands. The same laws that regulate scattering cremated remains would apply to the human-comprised soil, he said.
He was introduced to the idea by Katrina Spade, a Seattleite whose company Recompose is developing natural organic reduction. Spade first tried the process as a master’s student last year, using six human bodies from donors. Spade told CBC that the transition from body to soil took four to seven weeks.
“There’s a growing realization of climate change, coupled with this incredible cohort of baby boomers – 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day – who are approaching the end of their life or seeing someone go through death and thinking, ‘Is this really the best we can do?’ This is a generation that’s really good at saying “Wait a minute, we can do better than this,” she told Forbes last year.
In a 2017 TED Talk about the method, Spade told viewers “eventually you could be a lemon tree.”
While Pedersen said he was still planning to be buried at a cemetery with a tombstone, he said of natural organic reduction: “I think it’s really a lovely way of exiting the Earth.”
The bill comes Democrats in Washington, D.C., have embraced environmental policy as a core part of their agenda. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. recently unveiled her Green New Deal, which promises massive government investment in a bid to restructure the U.S. economy and save the planet from climate change.
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