State of New York: Human Composting Bill

June 17, 2022

New Yorkers may soon have another option to choose from when deciding what to do with their remains after they die: they can now be composted.

Indeed, the state legislature has passed a bill authorizing human composting. It would allow facilities to use natural organic reduction, which speeds up the process of biological decomposition in an aboveground container and turns human remains into soil, according to the text of the bill.

This method is an “ecologically sustainable” and cost-effective alternative to cremation and burial, according to the legislation. The State of Washington legalized organic natural reduction in 2019, and Oregon and Colorado passed similar bills last year.

The New York State Senate passed the bill by a vote of 61-2 last Friday, and the Assembly passed it by 98-52 on Wednesday. If signed by Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, the measure would take effect 90 days later.

Human composting is an eco-friendly alternative to cemeteries, which take up land, and saves resources such as the wood, concrete, and steel used in the construction of caskets, according to a press release from Environmental Advocates of New York.

Traditional burials can also lead to soil and groundwater contamination due to the embalming process, which uses toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, the advocacy group notes.

“Cremation isn’t much better for the environment, requiring 105 liters of fuel for a single cremation, releasing almost 250 kilos of carbon dioxide, as well as other dangerous chemicals like carbon monoxide and mercury.”

According to the group, human composting places human remains in a specially designed bin with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over a period of several weeks, microbes and oxygen transform the waste into compost.

Recompose, a Washington state company that offers natural organic reduction, estimates that human composting saves a metric ton of carbon dioxide compared to burial or cremation.

New York's legislation on human composting comes as the state seeks to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

Natural biological reduction facilities would have to follow the same rules as crematoria under the proposed legislation. They could not mix remains and would have to follow the same standards for privacy, certification, and identification.

If remains that have undergone natural organic reduction are not recovered by a family, they could be scattered in a garden or designated area, or in a tomb, crypt, or other location designated by an authorized cemetery corporation, according to the draft law.

The New York State Catholic Conference opposed the measure. “We think there are many New Yorkers who would be uncomfortable, at best, with this method of composting which is more appropriate for vegetable trimmings and eggshells than for human bodies,” the bishops said.

Above all, it must be vigorously affirmed that this way of doing things profoundly subverts the idea that the human body, having been united with an immortal soul, and rising one day in a glorious state - for those who will have realized their salvation - must be treated with respect and honor, and not like common compost.

Certainly, man is dust and he returns to dust, but the cases of miraculous preservation of the bodies of saints show the honor that God wants to give to these remains which were, with its soul, the host of the Holy Ghost and the dwelling of the Holy Trinity.

These practices tend nothing less than to make us think that we are only atoms of a world in perpetual change, and that heaven is only an invention to console us. It is the seal of a nihilistic and demonic vision of man, who closes himself to the transcendent and wants to decide for himself in the place of God.

There is a known case of an equivalent practice, in the gulags of the USSR. This was told by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his book, The Gulag Archipelago. In a reforestation campaign somewhere in Siberia, prisoners were dying from maltreatment. And, the author explains, there is a corpse of a “zek” (inmate) under each of the thousands of trees, for the compost.