LETTER: Human Composting a New Way of Dealing with Dead Bodies

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(Editor’s note: CTN wrote October 3 musings about a new law passed that would allow human composting. Forget the casket, forget the urn – Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill to allow human composting, aka “natural organic reduction.” Composting is a better option proponents say, because burial can allow chemicals to leak in the soil and cremation requires the burning of fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide.

According to one company, this “natural” process works much like composting vegetable scraps. The body is placed in a vessel with wood chips, alfalfa and straw. Over a month, the microbes work to break the body down into a cubic yard of soil, which can then be used in a loved one’s garden.

There was no mention if people could do “home composting.” CTN wonders about patio parties, especially if someone is composting a body the next house over.)

 

CTN received the October 6, letter from a reader:

A couple of nights ago I read your first comments on human composting.  My immediate reaction was “Uh-oh, Sue is in South Dakota smoking those funny mushrooms again!”

But after a bit of online research, I realized that no, human composting is real and coming to a state near you . . . but not all that quickly and probably not all that simply. The legislation signed by Governor Newsom does not go into effect until January 2027, and in the interim a section of the state’s bureaucracy has been given the task of coming up with rules and regulations. Beware the latter!

Three years ago, my sister died and as her closest relative I was tasked with carrying out her wishes to be cremated and have her ashes spread over the bay near her summer home on Long Island.

The cremation part was simple, but I soon learned that spreading human ashes over waters within the State of New York was fraught with all sorts of legal technicalities and in some cases totally disallowed.  Cigarette ashes – no problem; human ashes – big problem. Go figure.

I expect that human composting in California will eventually meet similar technicalities as people think about having someone’s loved one rotting in the yard next to theirs. And human composting isn’t as simple as its proponents and your article make it seem. Human bones and teeth don’t decompose within thirty days and have to be dealt with in some way or another. Those can require grinding or some form of mechanical processing, or just straight burial, which dilutes the environmental benefits that human composting advocates claim.

So how did I resolve the problem my sister created for me? The solution my family and I came up with was to charter a boat on Long Island and carry the ashes three+ miles out to sea (even there we had to deal with Coast Guard regulations).

Then in a quasi-nautical / quasi-religious ceremony on the Atlantic we spread my sister’s ashes over the ocean with the hope and theoretical possibility that they would be carried through the inlet and into the bay as she desired. What I learned during that experience was that on the East Coast and some parts of the West Coast “burial at sea” has become a viable and supposedly environmentally friendly alternative to burial in a cemetery or to cremation.

The “burial” can be as solemn as the family wishes or as the captain of our charter described, can entail full naval honors or even be presented as the final “cruise” / wake / party with the loved one.  Think about it, Sue; a “burial at sea” article may be a suitable follow up to your discussions of human composting.

 

A resident

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2 Responses to LETTER: Human Composting a New Way of Dealing with Dead Bodies

  1. howard yonet says:

    Part of the residents discussion about alternatives to burial or composting or cremation needs a little clarification. “Burial at Sea”is truly dumping the entire body wrapped in a shroud and weighted down so that it sinks to the bottom. The flesh is eaten by fish.Probably takes a lot of diesel fuel to get the boat and guests out to the required distance. wouldnt composting in a cemetery be the most efficient and ecologic approach?

  2. DJ McKenna says:

    My mother recently died, and one of the options was a nice looking coffin that was not made of metal or wood but compressed cardboard that would eventually dissolve and allow the worms and soil and water seepage in the graveyard — NATURE essentially, to reabsorb her body as had been the norm for hundreds of thousands of years of human existence. There are now “green” cemetaries or groves of trees that allow similar natural decomposition. Less than 100 years ago, and still in rural areas, it was not unusual for families to have graves on their private property. This doesn’t sound all that different from what humans have done for centuries.

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