On Tuesday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee signed bill 5001, titled “concerning human remains,” making Washington the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting.
The new law, which takes effect May 1, 2020, recognizes “natural organic reduction” and alkaline hydrolysis (sometimes called “liquid cremation”) as acceptable means of disposition for human bodies. Until now, Washington code had permitted only burial and cremation.
The bill had passed both legislative chambers with ample, bipartisan majorities: 80-16 in the House and 38-11 in the Senate.
This paves the way for Recompose, a project to build the first urban “organic reduction” funeral home in the country. Washington already has several “green cemeteries,” such as White Eagle Memorial Preserve in Klickitat County, where people can be buried without embalming, caskets or headstones. The Recompose model is more like an urban crematorium (bodies go in, remains come out), but using the slower, less carbon-intensive means of “organic reduction,” or composting.
The process, which involves using wood chips, straw and other materials, takes approximately four weeks and is related to methods of “livestock composting” which ranchers and farmers have been using for several years. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University, says that practice can turn a 1,500-pound steer — bones and all — into clean, odorless soil in a matter of months.
Designer Katrina Spade started the endeavor as a nonprofit, called the Urban Death Project, back in 2014. Over the years, Spade has assembled a board of volunteer advisers, including scientists, attorneys and death-care professionals, then converted it to a small-business model called Recompose.