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California Legalizes Controversial “Human Composting” Method

California has legalized the burial process known as “human composting,” which advocates say will help reduce the carbon footprint of funerals.

In human composting, the remains of the deceased are placed in a reusable stainless steel vessel filled with biodegradable materials such as wood chips. After 30 to 45 days, the debris will completely decompose into the nutrient-rich soil, which can be hand over to relatives or for land protection purposes.

Proponents say the technique that California Governor Gavin Newsom legalized on Sunday with Assembly Bill 351 is more sustainable than traditional coffin burials or cremations. Unlike cremation, it avoids carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, and unlike traditional burials, it does not require any chemicals for embalming or burying non-decomposing coffins.

“AB 351 will provide California residents with an additional option that is more environmentally friendly and gives them a different choice for burial,” convention writer Cristina Garcia said in a statement. “As climate change and sea level rise pose very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposal that will not contribute to emissions into our atmosphere.”

Other states such as Colorado, Oregon, and Vermony already permit this practice. Some religious groups oppose composting people, arguing that it raises moral issues.

Composting people creates “unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological remoteness from the deceased,” SF Gate said in a statement from the California Catholic conference.

She also expressed concerns about how human remains are distributed after the composting process.

If soil has been used in a public place, “the risk is that people will step on human remains without their knowledge, while being repeatedly dispersed in the same area is tantamount to a mass grave,” added the conference.

California law includes certain safeguards, such as preventing different sets of debris from being combined into a single collection of land without family consent.

Other states, such as Colorado, are going further by banning the sale of composted residues or their use to grow food for human consumption.


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