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Washington Democrat proposes ‘human compositing’ bill to allow loved ones to be turned into soil

Says remains could be used to help grow a tree

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Washington state could become the first state in the nation to allow "human composting" when people die.

What is this?

The process is called "recomposition" and involves placing bodies in a vessel filled with nutrient-dense soil so they can quickly decompose. Then, the soil is returned to families, according to NBC News.

"People from all over the state who wrote to me are very excited about the prospect of becoming a tree or having a different alternative for themselves," state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat, who is sponsoring a bill in Washington's Legislature, told the news outlet.

If approved, the bill would also make Washington the 17th state to allow alkaline hydrolysis. That process involves dissolving bodies with with water and lye until "just liquid and bone remains," according to the report.

The bill, expected to be introduced by Pedersen when the new legislative session opens next month, is designed to give people options other than traditional burial practices, the report states.

Pedersen reportedly believes the idea is both an environmental and social justice issue.

"The aim is a less expensive way of dealing with human remains that is better for the environment than burial, which can leach chemicals into the ground, or cremation, which releases earth-warming carbon dioxide," according to the report.

The method costs about $5,500 compared to more than $7,000 for a traditional funeral, based on 2017 figures from the National Funeral Directors Association. Cremation costs about $1,000, minus a memorial service and an urn.

Who dreamed this up?

Seattle-based designer Katrina Spade is credited with introducing the idea in 2013 while she was earning a master's degree in architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

According to the report:

"A friend introduced her to the farming practice of composting livestock after they die. Called mortality composting, the practice has been shown to safely keep pathogens from contaminating the land, while creating a richer soil. "It was like a lightbulb went off and I started to envision a system that uses the same principles as mortality composting...that would be meaningful and appropriate for human beings," she said.

Pedersen introduced a bill that included alkaline hydrolysis but not recomposition, in 2017. It failed to pass.

Spade's project, called Recompose, was initially called The Urban Death Project.

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