New York legalises human composting

Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose.
Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

New York has become the latest state in the US to legalise natural organic reduction, also known as human composting or terramation, as an alternative method of burial.

The legislative move, which was approved by Governor Kathy Hochul on Saturday, makes New York the sixth state to do so since 2019.

What is human composting?

Human composting is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burials or cremations that sees a person’s body decompose over several weeks in a special above-ground facility.

The remains must be suitably contained and ventilated, and not contain any batteries, power cells, radioactive implants, or devices.

The body is then placed in a closed vessel with materials such as woodchips, alfalfa, and straw grass, and gradually breaks down under the action of microbes.

After a month-long process and a heating process to kill any contagion, loved ones are given the resulting soil. The process produces a heaped cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil, equivalent to 36 bags of soil, which can be used in planting flowers, vegetables, or trees.

Where is human composting legal?

Washington was the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, and it has since been approved in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California.

According to one US firm, Recompose, their human composting service has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions when compared to traditional burials or cremations.

While human composting is seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional burials or cremations, it raises some ethical questions for some people. Catholic bishops in New York state reportedly opposed the legislation, arguing that human bodies should not be treated like “household waste”.

Human composting is already legal in Sweden, and natural burials, where a body is buried without a coffin or with a biodegradable one, are also legal in the United Kingdom.