May 22, 2019; Governing
There are shadows of the 1973 dystopian film Soylent Green in this story—but in a good way.
Writing for Governing, Brendan Kiley reports that Washington has become the first state in the country to make the composting of human remains legal as of May of next year. The bill passed with a bipartisan majority and was signed into law by Governor (and presidential candidate) Jay Inslee yesterday.
The processes made permissible turn human remains into soil. In death, not only does one not poison the earth; one feeds it, enriching the family garden even in death.
Recompose, a B-corporation run by Katerina Spade, an architect and ecologist who was waiting for this step to break ground on the first urban “organic reduction” funeral home in the US. The process is environmentally friendly—and less carbon-intensive than cremation. Recompose grew out of a nonprofit called the Urban Death Project, which was supported in part by a fellowship from Echoing Green. This effort will join a number of existing “green cemeteries” where people can be buried without all the muss, fuss and expense of embalming, caskets and markers.
Nora Menkin, executive director of the People’s Memorial Association, a funeral-home cooperative says that advocates in Massachusetts and Michigan have been following the progress of the bill with an eye to bringing it forward in their own states.
“I think this is great,” said Joshua Slocum, director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a national public-advocacy group based in Vermont. “In this country, we have a massively dysfunctional relationship with death, which does not make good principles for public policy. Disposition of the dead, despite our huge emotional associations with it, is not—except in very rare cases—a matter of public health and public safety. It’s a real tough thing for people to get their minds around, and a lot of our state laws stand in the way of people returning to simple, natural, uncomplicated, inexpensive ways of doing things.”
Rob Goff, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association (WSFDA), said his members have been pretty neutral on the bill, “but I will say that people are talking about changing means of disposition all over the country, and we’re excited to be in a state that’s progressively moving forward. There hasn’t been a lot of change in the past 100 years of funeral service. Now we get to be the front-runners.”—Ruth McCambridge