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Just in time for World Goth Day, Washington governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5001 Concerning Human Remains into law this past Tuesday. The bill allows for new alternatives to burial and cremation and makes Washington the first state to legalize human composting, or recomposition, which converts human remains into soil using a process called natural organic reduction.
If you’ve read the chapter featuring Katrina Spade of Recompose in Caitlin Doughty’s From Here to Eternity, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, think of recomposition like green burial on overdrive. Inside a reusable vessel, a human body is covered in wood chips, straw, or other organic materials and then aerated. After 30 days, that warm air and a variety of naturally occurring microbes and bacteria will have broken it down into a cubic yard of soil — which friends and family can take home and use to plant flowers, trees, and other future life. It’s really cool and, for those of us who have been following Katrina’s work, akin to finally getting the flying car we were promised by The Future. Only, you know, more environmentally friendly.
“Why shouldn’t our deaths give back to the earth and reconnect us with the natural cycles?” — Katrina Spade, Recompose
According to Recompose’s press release, Katrina envisions a future where every human death helps create healthy soil and heal the planet: “We asked ourselves how we could use nature — which has totally perfected the life/death cycle — as a model for human death care. Why shouldn’t our deaths give back to the earth and reconnect us with the natural cycles? At the same time, we’re aiming to provide ritual, to help people have a more direct and conscious experience around this really important event. As hard as it can be, the end of one’s life is a profound moment — for ourselves and for the friends and families we leave behind.”
“I’m exhausted but most excited for all the positive feedback (and a great deal of humor) we’ve been seeing.” — Nora Menkin, People’s Memorial Association
Nora Menkin, the Executive Director of education and advocacy non-profit People’s Memorial Association and The Co-op Funeral Home, is one of the people who has been championing alternative body disposition choices in Washington alongside Recompose. “I’m exhausted but most excited for all the positive feedback (and a great deal of humor) we’ve been seeing,” Nora told me this morning. “We are looking forward to both options being available next year and curious how popular they both will be.”
Both options? You read correctly. While news outlets have understandably focused on recomposition, this law is also a momentous achievement for supporters of aquamation. Aquamation, sometimes called alkaline hydrolysis or water cremation, uses water pressure to accelerate the decomposition process.
“Everyone should have the right to decide what happens to their bodies after death.” — Joslin Roth, Resting Waters
I originally discovered aquamation while researching animal aftercare, which led me to Seattle’s Resting Waters. Owned by sisters Joslin Roth and Darci Bressler, Resting Waters is an aquamation facility and a full-service pet funeral home. Joslin and Darci helped me when my mouse Marshmallow died earlier this year and are utterly lovely, incredible people; if you live in the area and need their services, I cannot recommend them enough. They’ve also been part of the fight to make the environmentally friendly method available for humans.
“The reason why I supported this bill and fought for it was because I believe everyone should have the right to decide what happens to their bodies after death,” Joslin told me. “My excitement in the passing of the recent bill is immeasurable! Giving families options is what we as death care professionals should strive for.”
I’m incredibly proud of my state for supporting such progressive legislation, especially during a time when legislative news is largely horrifying. Hopefully, this achievement will inspire other states to follow suit and offer more choices during the end-of-life process, helping us live and die meaningfully.
The law goes into effect on May 1, 2020. You can sign up for updates about recomposition on Recompose’s website; Recompose plans to start offering vessels by late 2020. Aquamation is currently offered for human Washington residents by Elemental Cremation & Burial through partnership with an Oregon-based facility.
- Katrina Spade by AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
- Vision of a Future Recompose Facility by MOLT Studios