Many people like the idea of planting a tree next to the grave of a loved one so their bodies can live on, in a sense, by providing nutrients that get absorbed by the tree. But would you ever want to forgo the casket and the grave, and have your remains directly transformed into compost?
A new bill currently being considered by Washington state lawmakers could soon make it the first state to legalize human composting, which would give residents options beyond burial or cremation when considering how they want their body handled after death, reports NBC News.
"People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves," said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who has sponsored the bill.
If passed, the bill would allow for the "recomposition" of human remains, a process that speeds up decomposition and turns remains into a nutrient-packed soil. This soil could then be returned to families to use as they please, perhaps to plant a garden or a tree.
Cycle of life?
While some people might think there's something eerily cannibalistic about eating crops that were planted in grandma's remains, it's also a way of perpetuating the cycle of life that all of our food grows from. This is the mental hurdle that has likely prevented human composting from being legalized up to this point.
Recomposition does have some practical benefits that are worth considering as well. For one, it's more economical. A traditional burial costs an average of $7,000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Recomposition would cost around $5,500. Moreover, composting is far healthier for the environment. No toxic embalming fluids are used, and obviously the resultant nutrient-rich soil has a green thumb use.
The proposal also has safeguards in place to ensure that no harmful pathogens survive the recomposition process, which has been another sticking point in previous attempts to legalize human composting. A 2017 study led by researcher Lynne Carpenter-Boggs at Washington State University, which recomposed six donor bodies in a carefully controlled environment, has demonstrated that the process is safe.
Pedersen is optimistic that the bill has the support it needs to pass, and if it does it would take effect on May 1, 2020. The only question at that point will be: how many people are comfortable enough with the idea to opt for it?