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New York poised to become sixth state to legalize ‘human composting’ as $7,000 burial alternative

New York is poised to become the sixth state to legalize ‘human composting’ — where people pay $7,000 to be turned into soil after they die.

The bodies are decomposed in above-ground containers that speed up the process of decomposing by ensuring the remains stay moist and are regularly moved. It has already been legalized in California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, with more than 200 Americans opting for the process to date.

And the latest eco-craze is surging in popularity with the center pioneering human composting — recompose — tripling in size in just two years. They now have 1,200 people on the ‘waiting’ list. Containers of remains are stacked in a wall, before soil from them is handed back to families months later. Many choose to have their remains sent to nature reserves or implanted into a personal garden.

Washington was the first state to legalize human composting in 2020, with four others following suit.

The above graphic shows the steps in human composting, an alternative to the traditional cremation or burial. It has already been legalized in five states, with New York set to become the sixth this month

Pictured above is the first stage of human composting at the Recompose center in Seattle, Washington. This is the moment when a body is laid on a bed of straw, alfalfa and wood chips before being moved into the unit (the hexagonal shape)

Pictured above is the first stage of human composting at the Recompose center in Seattle, Washington. This is the moment when a body is laid on a bed of straw, alfalfa and wood chips before being moved into the unit (the hexagonal shape)

Bernard O'Brien, 65, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York City, is hoping the Governor Kathy Hochul will soon legalize human composting. He said the process is 'comforting' as it allows for his remains to help the Earth

Bernard O’Brien, 65, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York City, is hoping the Governor Kathy Hochul will soon legalize human composting. He said the process is ‘comforting’ as it allows for his remains to help the Earth

People wanting to get composted told DailyMail.com it is ‘comforting’ to think that their remains would help the Earth.

They also liked the idea of loved ones being able to enjoy flowers and trees that their remains had helped create.

A bill to legalize the process in New York has passed the state’s Senate and General Assembly in June. 

It now requires signature from recently reelected Gov Kathy Hochul to become law.

It is unclear whether she will pass or veto the bill. She has until the end of the year to make the decision.

Those waiting for the New York bill to become law include Bernard O’Brien, 65, who lives in Brooklyn Heights and works in New York City’s Independent Budget Office.

Asked why he wanted to sign up for human composting, Mr O’Brien told DailyMail.com: ‘It’s comforting to think of my body serving nature, flowers and trees rather than being in a box six feet underground or burned.

‘I was raised a Christian and… if my body is distributed back to nature it gives me images of my loved ones enjoying flowers and trees from it forever.’

He plans to sign up once it is approved, and then have his soil scattered over a nature reserve in Indiana where he is from.

Recompose — which pioneered human composting in the United States — has some 30 vessels available at present. This will grow to 54 over the coming months

Recompose — which pioneered human composting in the United States — has some 30 vessels available at present. This will grow to 54 over the coming months

Shown above is a shrouded mannequin inside a vessel. Bodies are placed in these units for a month while they decompose. After this generally only a mulch is left

Shown above is a shrouded mannequin inside a vessel. Bodies are placed in these units for a month while they decompose. After this generally only a mulch is left

Wes Dingman, 90, a retired physician and psychiatrist from Queensbury in upstate New York is also keen to see the bill passed. 

He told Times Union: ‘That is how it was, long before we humans invented a whole bunch of things like embalming fluid.’

He and his wife plan to give their remains to a medical school, before asking for them to be turned into compost.

But opponents — namely the Catholic Church — argue the practice ‘disrespects’ the human body and have called on state governors to veto the bills.

How does human composting work 

Below is laid out the Recompose process for human composting.

Recompose, based in Seattle, Washington, was the first company to pioneer the method.

  1. Bodies are laid in a vessel with straw, alfalfa and wood chips;
  2.  Vessel is closed for thirty days for decomposition to take place. Over this time, it is turned for several hours a week and moisture levels are monitored to boost decomposition;
  3. It is then opened to reveal a mulch. Bones have almost completely disappeared
  4.  Remains are screened for medical devices like hip implants, which are removed. Remaining bones are put through a cremulator to break them up;
  5. Soil is put in a curing bin for a month and then returned to loved ones;
  6. Soil can be scattered on gardens, trees or in a nature reserve. 

The state’s bishops said last month: ‘We oppose this bill because composting is a process typically used for household or agricultural waste.

‘It does not provide the respect due to bodily remains.’

It takes about three weeks for flesh to completely rot away in a temperate environment.

But skeletons can survive for years, only breaking down if they become damp or are trampled by animals, machines or people.

In human composting — also known as organic reduction — flesh and bones can completely decompose in just a month.

The process begins with the body being placed into a metal vessel and surrounded by straw, alfalfa and woodchips.

To drive decomposition it is turned for a few hours every week, and airflow is controlled to ensure there is enough moisture.

After a month the body has been broken down into mulch.

It is then opened with the soil screened for medical devices such as hip implants, which are removed.

Any remaining bones are also taken out and put through a cremulator to crush them. This machine is also used in crematoriums for leftover bones.

Mulch is then moved to a curing bin for another month, before being given to families or spread on nature reserves.

Katrina Spade, who runs human composting group Recompose in Seattle, Washington, said bones are kept moist to ensure they break down.

Normally most have broken down within the month, she said.

Each human produces about one cubic yard of soil.

Pictured is Katrina Spade from Recompose. She said that they have more than 1,200 people on the 'waitlist' for human composting at the center. She is shown holding soil that was once a human

Pictured is Katrina Spade from Recompose. She said that they have more than 1,200 people on the ‘waitlist’ for human composting at the center. She is shown holding soil that was once a human

Pictured above is a mannequin miming what happens to human corpses before they are moved into a vessel for human decomposition

Pictured above is a mannequin miming what happens to human corpses before they are moved into a vessel for human decomposition

Ms Spade told DailyMail.com that the people signing up for human composting came from all walks of life and included gardeners, environmentalists, teachers, people in the military and Catholics.

They are also from all age groups, with the oldest being over 90 years old and younger individuals in their 20s and 30s.

About 200 people asked for their remains to go through the process to date, with another 1,200 currently on a waiting list.

Around half of those who went through the process chose to have their remains spread in nature reserves, while the rest asked for the soil to be placed in their rose gardens or to help plant a tree.

Four more states — Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts and Minnesota — are also looking to legalize human composting. Bills supporting the process failed in Hawaii and Maine.

In Hawaii, legislators voted against human composting after the state’s cemetery association argued there was ‘insufficient evidence’ on its impacts on the environment to support the bill.

Cremation remains the most popular burial in the US, with about 1.9million people — or 57 percent — of those who died in 2021 choosing the option.

But the growth rate in cremations has slowed in recent years, dropping from eight to seven percent year-on-year, as other options have emerged.

Cremations release about 418lbs of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of driving 470miles in a car, according to the American Chemical Society.

But experts say human composting releases much less because fossil fuel is not burnt and most carbon released is reabsorbed into the soil.

Cremations are priced around $2,000 to $4,000 on average, estimates suggest. Traditional burials cost between $7,000 to $12,000.

On the other hand, human composting costs upwards of $7,000. 

Ms Spade told DailyMail.com that bodies don’t smell in the human composting process because all air leaving the vessel goes through a purifier.

Normally few bones are left after the 30-day period, she added. This is because bones are like other tissue, and break down readily as long as they are kept moist.

Recompose currently has 31 vessels, but is set to expand to 54 in the next few months. When they opened in 2020 only 10 were available.

They also have plans to expand to Denver, Colorado, next year and California in 2027.

Other businesses offering human composting include Return Home in Auburn, Washington, Herland Forest in Wahkiacus, Washington and Earth Funeral based in Auburn, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.

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