mountain above and below

Green Burial: Composting Human Remains

An eco-alternative for dealing with one’s human remains has been a dream of many in Seattle for some time now. Eco-sensitive green burials in conjunction with land conservation are old news. But composting human remains is only now becoming a legal possibility.

The road to composting human remains

For the past five years, Katrina Spade has been pilot testing and designing a new kind of funeral home. She envisions one that emits much less carbon and returns a loved one’s remains in the form of fertile soil instead of ashes.

For composting of human remains to become a legal option, both houses of the WA State Legislature must pass the bills before them this session. The Senate passed theirs, SB 5001, in late January (see Sen. Pedersen’s remarks here, starting around 1:33:00).

This list from Recompose told me that my state senator voted for it, and I’ve just emailed him to thank him. It is now waiting for approval by the House appropriations committee. 

If passed, this law would allow two new ways of dealing with human remains. One is alkaline hydrolysis, which reduces a body to ashes with a lower expenditure of fossil fuels than cremation. It is already possible in 14 states and is allowed in WA state for pets.

The second is “accelerated reduction of human remains to soil,” or composting. Amazingly, Recompose has calculated this method will save over a metric ton of CO2 emissions per person.

We recently had a death in the family and had to make arrangements for cremation. There was an option to ship the body to Oregon for alkaline hydrolysis, but we opted for something more local instead. After a grueling year of completely unsustainable medical interventions, it would have been so nice to do something natural with our loved one’s body, and to see new life spring from his soil. Instead, we got a heavy box of ashes with which to remember him.

pushing up daisies

Call Your Legislators!

This week, Recompose Grassroots Team is pushing everyone to call their WA state representatives to keep bill moving before the legislative session ends! 

Find your legislator here (click “Congressional”), and then call or write them with the following message or your own version:

Hello, my name is __________  and I live in Rep. ___________’s district [give neighborhood or zip code]. I would like to urge Rep. __________ to vote YES to move SB5001: Concerning Human Remains out of Appropriations Committee as soon as possible. This bill provides Washingtonians with a truly sustainable death care option, and more choice when it comes to the end-of-life.

There are several reasons why I urge Rep. __________ to support this bill:

– It gives me freedom of choice: having funeral options that feel respectful and dignified is important
– It helps the environment and alleviates climate change: more green funeral options are needed

76% of Washingtonians are cremated. Yet cremation is an energy-intensive process that releases carbon dioxide, mercury, and particulates into the atmosphere. The energy required to cremate a body is roughly equal to the amount of fuel it takes to drive 4,800 miles!
This is why SB 5001 is so important; the process gently converts a body into soil, using just 1/8 the energy of cremation. And it saves over a metric ton of carbon per person who chooses it over cremation or burial.

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