On May 21, 2019, the State of Washington became the first in the nation to legalize human composting. Under current law, burial and cremation are the only legal ways to dispose of human remains. However, starting in May 2020, these traditional methods will be joined by a third option: recomposition (also called human composting, or more euphemistically, "natural organic reduction").
As defined by the law, recomposition is the "contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil." This involves the body being covered with organic materials such as straw or wood chips, and being broken down by microbial activity over three to seven weeks. The soil that remains is then given to the family, much like ashes after cremation.
Advocates for recomposition make two main arguments: (1) that there is a market for this option among people concerned with the environmental impact of burial or cremation; and (2) at roughly $5,500, recomposition is less expensive than burial and competitive with the cost of cremation. Despite this, the practice faces opposition from industry and religious groups. There are also still technical hurdles in perfecting the process itself.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether other states will follow Washington's lead and create a new paradigm in how society handles the remains of the deceased.