A recently signed bill legalizes human composting in California. Residents can now choose to turn their bodies into nutrient-rich soil after death, rather than being buried or cremated.

Circle of life: Human composting, also called “terramation” or “natural organic reduction” (NOR), begins with placing a body in a sealed container with organic materials, such as straw, flowers, and wood chips.

Air circulates through the vessel and microbes in the body begin the process of breaking down human remains and plant material. About 30 to 60 days later, the vessel will contain about one cubic meter of soil.

After a few weeks of resting in a “drying bin”, the soil can be returned to the loved ones of the deceased, who could use it to fertilize a memorial garden or flower bed, or be donated to an ecosystem restoration project. .

“It seems like a peaceful way for the body to move into the next phase.”


The look: Some people are drawn to human composting because they think it’s a more natural and gracious alternative to burial or cremation.

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“[Y]We are not burned, not filled with embalming chemicals and taking up space in a container, ”said Charlotte Bontrager, whose mother Paulie Bontrager requested and suffered terramation in Washington state, at the Seattle Times in 2021.

“It seems like a peaceful way for the body to move on to the next phase,” she continued.

A Recompose mannequin with plant material shows part of the human composting process. (Credit: recompose)

Many others, including Cristina Garcia, the lawmaker who drafted California’s human composting bill, argue for terramation because it’s more environmentally friendly than traditional death-care options.

“This is an alternative final disposal method that will not contribute to emissions in our atmosphere and will in fact capture CO2 in our soil and our trees,” Garcia said. “For each individual who chooses NOR over a conventional burial or cremation, the process saves the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment.”

“Climate change, the state of the planet, the grief we feel about it, makes people more aware of their end of life, of their impact on the planet.”


The big picture: Even so, human composting is only now becoming an option in the United States – before 2019, when Washington became the first state to explicitly allow terramation, the only legal ways to dispose of human remains were burial, cremation or the gift.

Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont have since legalized human composting, and California’s new law requires authorities to develop regulations around it no later than 2027. Advocates hope everyone will soon have access to the environmentally friendly death care option.

“Climate change, the state of the planet, the grief we feel about it, makes people more aware of their end of life, their impact on the planet,” said Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of the company. human composting Recompose, to NBC News. .

“Human composting may be the next cremation,” she continued. “If we could really be the default, that would have a huge impact.”

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.