Human composting considered in Washington

By Ken McEntee

Washington may soon be the first state to allow composting as an alternative to cremation and burial to dispose of deceased humans. State Sen. Jamie Pedersen and nine co-sponsors this month introduced SB5001, which would expand disposal options to “recomposition” and alkaline hydrolysis, through which remains are reduced in a bath of water and a strong base.

Katrina Spade, the founder and executive director of Recompose, formerly called the Urban Death Project, has been working for several years with Washington State University (WSU) to determine the most efficient way to composting humans after death. Recompose would offer “recomposition” services. Spade said the process reduces an average human body to about cubic yard of soil.

Spade, testifying before the state’s Senate Labor & Commerce Committee this month, said 76 percent of deceased Washingtonians are cremated – the largest percentage of any U.S. state.

“Recomposition requires one-eighth the amount of energy required for cremation,” she said.

Pedersen, also testifying, called the human composting process “super environmentally friendly.”

“New technology allows us to dispose of human remains safely in ways that are much cheaper than the current options,” he said.

Pederson last year introduced a bill that only included alkaline hydrolysis, but it failed to pass.

Spade, speaking with Composting News in 2016, said the recomposition process “honors both our loved ones and the planet earth. Today’s funerals don’t support the grieving as well as they could, and I also found out through research that cremation and convention burial pollute and are wasteful in different ways. We need to create new spaces in our cities where we can do death better, and incorporating the technology of livestock composting made sense.”

It was the school’s research on livestock composting that drew Spade to WSU.

In the recomposition process, the deceased body would be lowered down into a tall composting bay with a small footprint, where it would be composted with a bulking agent like wood chips. Aeration would be provided by ports in the side of the structure. The process would take four to six weeks.

Funeral director Char Barrett, of A Sacred Moment, in Everett, testified that about one family each week calls her to inquire about “green” disposal options.

A companion bill, HB 1162, was introduced this month into the House by State Rep. Steve Kirby.

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