Things in California keep getting more and more “unique.” A new law signed last weekend by CA Gov. Gavin Newsom will now allow Golden State residents to turn their bodies into compost material upon their death.
Yes, you are reading this correctly.
Specifically, the new law requires officials in California to develop regulations and practices for what is being called “natural organic reduction,” by the year 2027.
If you can believe it, California isn’t even the first blue state to legalize the practice.
"Compost kills human disease organisms (pathogens). This is established science, and very important…Composting is a sanitation procedure, like hand-washing or teeth-brushing."
— Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò (@OlufemiOTaiwo) September 18, 2022
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How It Works
Fellow blue state Washington became the first in the country in 2019, followed by Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont.
So what gives? A Seattle area funeral home called Recompose explains on their website how the process works. “Beneficial microbes” that occur in the human body and the environment is the basis for the practice.
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The body is wrapped, and laid in a box along with a healthy amount of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw, and left to decompose for 30 days.
According to the funeral home website, each human body can produce one cubic yard of soil “amendment,” which is just a fancy way of saying that the decomposing human body is turned into fertilizer.
Then, it’s back to the earth.
In California, Eco-Friendly Human Composting Will Be New Burial Option in 2027 https://t.co/Ae1VNWaL5g
— NBC4 Washington (@nbcwashington) September 20, 2022
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The Pro-Compost Argument
Those in favor of the practice point to environmental side effects of the two current options, burial or cremation. An estimate from National Geographic states that one cremation can produce an average of 534.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. The total number of cremations on the U.S. annually is roughly 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
If one opts to be buried instead of cremated, there are other considerations. To bury one human body, it takes around three gallons of embalming liquid. Embalming liquid contains such things as formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol. Those chemicals can work their way into the soil.
Surprisingly, the costs involved behind the process are not great. The cost of the service runs between $5,000 and $7,000, which makes it a bit less costly than a burial, but will run a bit more than cremation.
Our corrupt governor here in California, signed human composting into law for 2027.
In 2027, that salad that you're eating may not be really lettuce & tomato…😱 pic.twitter.com/pyivYObQdA
— Plumeria R. (@PlumeriaR1) September 22, 2022
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The Ethics Of It All
Obviously, there are ethical concerns that need to be addressed. The Colorado law states that the soil of multiple bodies cannot be combined without consent. Also, the soil cannot be sold or used to grow food for human consumption.
(That’s a relief.)
In California, the new law states that the combining of several peoples’ remains is prohibited unless they are related. However, California does not explicitly prohibit sale of the soil or use for growing food for human consumption.
Also in California, the new law has taken heat from the Catholic Church, saying the practice “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”
Kathleen Domingo is the executive director of the California Catholic Conference. She states that, “NOR (natural organic reduction) uses essentially the same process as a home gardening composting system.”
She added, “These methods of disposal were used to lessen the possibility of disease being transmitted by the dead carcass. Using these same methods for the ‘transformation’ of human remains can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased.”
While most Californians may not be concerned about the afterlife or the spiritual effects, how many will be excited to bite into their next salad?
California is the craziest place on the planet.
"Only in California can you be murdered by a junkie and then be composted and have your remains used to grow marijuana in. Don’t worry, it’s for the planet."https://t.co/V6SPyErATB
— Rocky Wells (@Rockw1) September 22, 2022
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I don’t understand why this is an issue. Human life is sacred, the organic vessel that contains that life is inherently disposable. From a religious standpoint, once the spirit leaves the body, it’s nothing more than a meaningless husk. The spirit then resides in heaven (or someplace south of that).
From a humanist, practical standpoint, storing bodies in cement encasements buried in the ground is a waste of space and resources. Burning them to ash is a waste of energy and causes pollution. Our bodies are organic and their natural decomposition feeds the ecosystem no less than the decomposing body of a squirrel or raccoon or deer. There is nothing sinister about eating food that’s grown in soil containing the organic compounds remaining after decomposition of a body any more than any other kind of organic matter. I’d be willing to bet that every farmer’s field in the world has matter from decomposed corpses in it…maybe not human, but the organic chemicals and decomposition process are the same regardless.
Of course, I’m not saying that’s the route people should take. If for religious or emotional reasons a family wants their loved one buried, or cremated, that’s their choice, but if it’s my desire to have my remains returned to the earth in a perfectly natural and safe process, and my family isn’t opposed to it, who are you to tell me that I shouldn’t?
For the record, I’m not some hippy-dippy liberal. I was born and raised on a farm, spent 21 years in the military, am a Christian and am about as conservative is you can get. I think my farm upbringing where we raised and processed most of our food (including the meat products) ourselves made me much less…um…squeamish about the “cycle of life” than most urbanites these days. My Christian upbringing lends me to not worry so much about what happens to our physical remains after our spirit is done with them. After I’m dead, I’m not in there any more; I don’t think I need the remains filled full of chemicals and preserved because I doubt that I’ll ever need that body again. Especially if it’s buried in a concrete vault underground. That would suck if I ever needed it again “hey…somebody let me out of here!”
Seriously though. Funerals and gravesites and headstones aren’t for the dead people. They’re dead, what do they care? Our funereal formalities are for the surviving family and friends: for the grieving process, to help them to close that book and move on, and to help them come to terms with the fact that someday they’re going to be the one in the box. (Breaking: new study suggests that life has a 100% mortality rate)
I’ve always said I’d want to be cremated and my ashes “buried at sea”, just because it seems cheaper, more efficient and less wasteful than burial, but something like this would be even better. Allowing natural processes to break my body down into it’s constituent organic compounds, thus feeding the cycle of life appeals greatly to me.
But honestly, I don’t really care what happens to my body after I’m done with it. It won’t be about me at that point, it will be about my loved ones and for them to be allowed to do what they need to do to close that chapter and get on with their lives – whether that’s pumping my body full of chemicals and burying it, burning it to ash, or turning it into worm food; and as far as I’m concerned, it’s no-one else’s business.