Human Composting Is A New California Burial Option

Human composting, an alternate burial option, will become legal in California in 2027 according to a bill signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday.

Assembly Bill 351, introduced by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would establish a state regulatory process for natural organic reduction, a method in which human remains are placed in a steel vessel and buried in wood chips, alfalfa, and other biodegradable materials, allowing them to naturally decompose over a 30- to 45-day period. And then the rich, fertile soil that is produced might be given back to people or used for conservation purposes.

Proponents argue that it is a more sustainable death-care option for those who are looking for one. Traditional burial employs chemicals to embalm bodies and a nonbiodegradable casket to store them, whereas cremation requires a lot of energy and results in carbon dioxide emissions.

Human composting will soon be legal in California, joining states such as Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont.

Garcia said in a statement, “With climate change and sea-level rise as very real concerns to our environment, this is a different method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”

After two prior tries in 2020 and 2021, Garcia finally succeeded in getting human composting approved in California. There is an immediate effect on the environment, according to her office, for every person who is composted instead of buried or cremated. Human composting providers claim that their customers can prevent the emission of the carbon equivalent of one metric ton per person by opting for their service rather than traditional burial or cremation.

The CEO of Recompose in Seattle, which was the first funeral home in the country to build a human composting facility, Katrina Spade, said that the new law would give California’s 39 million residents a meaningful funeral option that offers significant savings in carbon emissions, water, and land usage compared to conventional burial or cremation. As we work to restore the earth, our final decisions have significance.

The California Catholic Conference was against the law because it “reduces the human being to just a throwaway commodity,” as they put it.

The group, which serves as the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in California, stated, “The practice of respectfully burying the bodies or the honoring of the ashes of the deceased comports with the almost universal norm of regard and care towards the deceased.”

Without making any remarks, Newsom signed the law.

At roughly $5,000 to $7,000, human composting is more expensive than cremation but less than a casket funeral. Human compost could be used on private property with permission, but otherwise it would be governed by the same laws as spreading cremains.

Tom Harries, co-founder of Earth Funeral, which provides burial services, argues that “this is a question of consumer choice,” and that Californians should have access to a natural, carbon-neutral, and sustainable alternative to cremation or burial. Soil transformation will soon be available in California thanks to Earth Funeral, allowing families more options when planning memorials.

This piece was first published in the Los Angeles Times.