California legalizes human composting bill against opposition from Catholic bishops

Redwoods in Northern California. Photo by Dan Meyers/Unsplash/Creative Commons

(RNS) – The process of converting bodies to soil is now legal in California after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Sunday (September 18) that will allow human composting in the Golden State.

Burial, cremation, and alkaline hydrolysis were the only mortuary care choices available in California. From 2027, human composting, or natural organic reduction, will be another option for “people who want a different way to honor their remains after they die.”

The process of composting a body was introduced by Seattle-based company Recompose, which is now open for business after Washington State legalized the process in 2019. Colorado was the second state to legalize it , followed by Oregon and Vermont. It is considered a more sustainable alternative to cremation, which requires fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide.

In the human composting method, a body is placed in a reusable container, covered with wood chips and aired, which creates an environment for essential microbes and bacteria. The body, over a period of about 30 days, is completely transformed into soil.

RELATED: Amid Catholic opposition, states legalize composting of human remains

In California, where the massive death toll from COVID-19 has flooded funeral homes and even led to Los Angeles County’s suspension of air quality regulations on cremation, the Congresswoman for State Cristina Garcia, a Democrat who introduced the legislation, said it was another “sad reminder.” the need to offer a “more environmentally friendly option”.

Garcia has sought to pass this bill for the past three years. “I look forward to continuing my legacy of fighting for clean air by using my reduced remains to plant a tree,” Garcia said in a statement after the governor’s signing.

An example of a vessel used in the Natural Organic Reduction process, which converts human bodies into soil, created by Recompose. Photo by Sabel Roizen, courtesy of Recompose

Catholic bishops have opposed this process in states where human composting has been legalized.

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the Catholic Conference of California, said the process “reduces the human body to a mere disposable product.” The California Catholic Conference submitted a letter of opposition to the bill in June.

In the letter, Domingo likened natural organic reduction to livestock disposal methods, “not as a means of human burial.” Using this method, Domingo said, “can create unfortunate spiritual, emotional, and psychological distancing from the deceased.”

In New York, where a similar invoice awaits the Governor’s signature, the New York State Catholic Conference in a statement said composting of human remains is inappropriate.

“While not everyone shares the same beliefs about respectful and respectful handling of human remains, we believe there are a large number of New Yorkers who would be uncomfortable with this at best. proposed composting/fertilization method, which is more suitable for vegetable trimmings and eggshells than for human bodies,” he said.

Death care specialists say this new eco-friendly procedure is crucial as cemeteries fill up and people seek more sustainable practices.

Under the California bill, soil created by the human composting method could be used on private land with permission and would be subject to the same restrictions as the scattering of cremated remains in the state, according to the Los Angeles Times. It also prohibits human remains from being “mixed with those of another personunless they are family.

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