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Also known as “natural organic reduction,” the practice causes a body to decompose for several weeks after being locked in a container.
In 2019, Washington was the first US state to legalize it. Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California followed suit.
New York is thus the sixth US jurisdiction to allow human composting, following the stamp of approval given Saturday by Kathy Hochul, the state’s Democratic governor.
The process occurs in special buildings and, unlike traditional burials, decomposition occurs above ground.
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A body is placed in a closed container along with selected materials, such as wood chips, alfalfa, and straw, and gradually decomposes under the action of microbes.
After a period of about a month, and a heating process to eliminate any possible infection, the loved ones receive the resulting soil. This can be used to plant flowers, vegetables, or trees.
Ecological, but controversial
An American company, Recompose, has said that its service can save a ton of carbon compared to a traditional cremation or burial. Carbon dioxide emissions are one of the main contributors to climate change because they act by trapping the Earth’s heat, in a phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect.
Traditional coffin burials also consume wood, soil, and other natural resources. Proponents of human composting say it’s not only a more environmentally friendly option, but also more practical in cities where space for cemeteries is limited.
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New York’s approval of the process was “a big step for accessible green death care across the country,” a Washington-based provider, Return Home, told the New York Post.
But for some, there are ethical questions about what happens to the soil that results from composting.
The Catholic bishops of New York state reportedly opposed the legislation, arguing that human bodies should not be treated as “household waste.”
And the price?
Concerns have also been raised about the cost of composting. But firm Recompose, whose Seattle plant is one of the world’s first, says it his $7,000 fee is “comparable” to the other options. The median price for a funeral with burial was $7,848 in 2021 in the US, or $6,971 for a funeral with cremation, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).
In the rest of the world, human composting is legal in one country: Sweden.