Maybe it's time we say goodbye to burials and cremation in the age of climate change, as human composting is legalized in Washington State.
Washington has just become the first state to legalize human composting, paving the way for more and better alternatives to burial and cremation. Composting is a process that produces soil suitable for farming and gardening, which provides a great way to fight the current climate crisis, even after death.
A better alternative to burials and cremation
The legislation was signed on Tuesday by Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee, who's making climate change the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Advocates of human composting promote it as an eco-friendly way to dispose of our remains, which can often produce harmful waste if not taken care of correctly.
Conventional burial is by far the most popular funerary practice in the United States, followed by cremation. Both methods are detrimental to the environment, as they release emit carbon dioxide and other damaging particles into the ground and up to the atmosphere, polluting the air and soil—thus contributing unnecessarily to climate change. Burial also consumes valuable land that could otherwise be used to better, more fruitful ends—literally.
"By converting human remains into soil, we minimize waste, avoid polluting groundwater with embalming fluid, and prevent the emissions of CO2 from cremation and from the manufacturing of caskets, headstones, and grave liners," said Recompose, a Seattle-based company poised to become the first business to offer the service.
The process is set to save a metric ton of CO2 every time someone chooses human composition over burial or cremation. Besides wasting and polluting less, composition also spends less energy than traditional funerary methods. That's without even considering the advantages of producing more fertile soil.
How does it work and how much does it cost?
Recompose plans to place bodies in steel hexagonal vessels containing wood chips, straw, alfalfa and microbes, which will break down organic matter and turn it into soil. The whole process will take about one month and cost around $5,500—more than cremation, but less than being buried in a casket.
"Our process creates about a cubic yard of soil per person, which is a lot!" the company said. "Friends and family are welcome to take some (or all) home to grow a tree or a garden. Any remaining soil will go to nourish conservation land in the Puget Sound region."
The news represents a new milestone in the availability of so-called green burial alternatives, which have become increasingly popular as more and more people realize the environmental crisis of climate change.
Other eco-friendly funerary services
Bear in mind that human composting is not the first or only effort to make eco-friendly funerary arrangements. Alkaline hydrolysis, which decomposes bodies using lye and heat in a process known as "biocremation," is already legal in several states. Other methods also include being placed in a biodegradable material (such as a mushroom suit, which covers the body in spores that break it down and removes toxins), turned our ashes into an artificial reef formations, or mixing our remains into plant soil.
But human composting is supposed to beat most of these methods by producing more fertile land with less resources than the rest, allowing for further uses of compost soil that would help the environment beyond the actual composting process.
Should we all go for composting from now on?
This makes it enticing to think about the moral and social responsibility we have when choosing the means of our final disposition. Are we morally responsible not to waste unnecessarily, even after we die, if we can help it? In the face of the climate crisis we're currently undergoing, it seems safe to say that we are. The more viable eco-friendly options we have, the more forceful the argument gets that we should make use of them, and opt-out of traditional burial and cremation services. At least it forces us to ask, why would we rather be buried if it harms the environment?
Unsurprisingly, the main reason for choosing burial over composting seems to be religious. The Catholic Church, for one, strongly opposes Washington State's legalization of human composting, claiming that it does not show sufficient respect for the deceased. But there's no good reason why we should think this. On the contrary: composting connects us with the land and with nature in ways cremation and burial do not, and it shows incredible respect for the very environment that allowed us to live in the first place.
Recompose expects to open its first outlets by the end of next year, in Seattle, and the law will take effect on May 1, 2020.
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