California’s dead will have a new burial option: Human composting

A photo illustration
(Via CalMatters)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signs Assembly Bill 351, which legalizes an alternative burial method known as human composting. which supporters say is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional end-of-life options including cremation.

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California will begin allowing an alternative burial method known as human composting in 2027, under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday.

Assembly Bill 351 by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) will create a state regulatory process for natural organic reduction, a method in which human remains naturally decompose over a 30-to-45-day period after being placed in a steel vessel and buried in wood chips, alfalfa and other biodegradable materials. The nutrient-dense soil created by the process can then be returned to families or donated to conservation land.

Supporters say it’s an eco-friendly alternative to traditional end-of-life options. Cremation, for example, is an energy-intense process that produces carbon dioxide emissions, while traditional burial uses chemicals to embalm bodies and a nonbiodegradable coffin to store them.

California will join Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Vermont in allowing human composting.

“With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere,” Garcia said in a statement.

It was Garcia’s third attempt to approve human composting in California after previous attempts failed in 2020 and 2021. Her office said for every person who is composted versus buried or cremated, the environmental impact is immediate. The companies that offer human composting say for every person who choses the option over burial or cremation it will save the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment.

“This new law will provide California’s 39 million residents with a meaningful funeral option that offers significant savings in carbon emissions, water and land usage over conventional burial or cremation,” said Katrina Spade, chief executive of Recompose, a Seattle-based company that was the first funeral home to build a human composting facility in the country. “Our end-of-life choices matter in the effort to heal this planet.”

The California Catholic Conference opposed the bill, saying the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”

“The practice of respectfully burying the bodies or the honoring the ashes of the deceased comports with the virtually universal norm of reverence and care towards the deceased,” said the group, which is the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in California.

Newsom signed the bill without comment.

Human composting is slightly less expensive than a casket funeral, but at around $5,000 to $7,000, it is more costly than cremation. The soil created by the human composting process could be used on private land with permission and otherwise would be subject to the same restrictions as scattering cremated remains in the state.

“This is a question of consumer choice, and Californians should have access to a deathcare option that is natural, carbon neutral, and a sustainable alternative to cremation or burial,” said Tom Harries, co-founder of Earth Funeral, which offers the burial option. “Earth Funeral looks forward to bringing soil transformation to California so that anyone can make this choice for themselves or to honor their loved ones.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.