“Natural Organic Reduction” is the name Washington has used to refer to what we can understand as composting human remains. Last Friday the state Senate and House of Representatives finalized their approval of bill 5001 (titled “concerning human remains”), which enshrines “organic reduction” and alkaline hydrolysis, a dissolving process sometimes called “liquid cremation,” as acceptable alternatives to traditional burial and cremation.
The process outlined in the legislation is called “recomposition,” which involves placing a body in a chamber that accelerates decomposition. After about a month, the body is transformed into a nutrient-packed soil that is returned to the deceased’s family or loved ones, who can then use the soil to plant a tree, nourish a garden, or really, whatever they feel like.
Now the bill is just waiting for the governor’s signature and it will become real. If Gov. Jay Inslee signs the bill, the law would take effect on May 1, 2020.
The First Composting Funeral House
Katrina Spade is the founder and CEO of Recompose, the funeral home that wants to become the first “natural organic reduction” business in the U.S.
In the seven years since Spade formally launched the idea, which started as a nonprofit called the Urban Death Project, she has worked with scientists in Eastern Washington and North Carolina to study how human bodies decompose in the soil. (One trial involved the bodies of six supporters who’d volunteered their remains for research.) The studies demonstrated that the resulting compost met — and sometimes exceeded — state and federal safety standards for pathogens and metals that could be dangerous to humans, animals, or nearby plants. (Also important: The soil smelled like soil and nothing else.)
In other words, according to the research, carefully and properly composted human remains are safe enough to use in a household garden.