New York has become the sixth state in the US to legalize natural organic reduction, also known as human composting, despite critics disapproving of the method of burial, saying ‘human bodies are not household waste.’
Recently re-elected Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, signed the legislation on Saturday. Washington state became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, followed by Colorado and Oregon in 2021, and Vermont and California in 2022.
‘I am committed to having my body composted and my family knows that,’ said Howard Fischer, an investor located in New York City. ‘But I would love for it to happen in New York where I live rather than shipping myself across the country.’
For the 63-year-old, this alternative, green method of burial aligns with his philosophical view on life: to live in an environmentally conscious way.
New York is now the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize natural organic reduction, also known as human composting. Pictured: The first stage of human composting at the Recompose center in Seattle, Washington. It involves having a body laid on a bed of straw, alfalfa and wood chips before being moved into the unit (the hexagonal shape)
New York Governor Kathy Hochul legalized a bill approving the new burial method on Saturday
Straw and wood chips (pictured) are used in the human composting process, creating the perfect habitat for naturally occurring microbes to break down the humany body in about a month’s time
General view of an array of composting vessels at Recompose in Seattle — a green funeral home specializing in human composting
Two people look at a shrouded mannequin inside a vessel, where bodies are usually lied in for a month while they decompose before turning into mulch
The process involves the following: the body of the deceased is placed into a reusable vessel along with plant material such as wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The organic mix creates the perfect habitat for naturally occurring microbes to do their work, quickly and efficiently breaking down the body in about a month’s time.
The end result is a heaping cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil amendment, the equivalent of about 36 bags of soil, that can be used to plant trees or enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens.
For urban areas such as New York City where land is limited, it can be seen as a pretty attractive burial alternative.
‘It’s comforting to think of my body serving nature, flowers and trees rather than being in a box six feet underground or burned,’ 65-year-old Bernard O’Brien, who lives in Brooklyn Heights and works with New York City’s Independent Budget Office, previously told DailyMail.com.
‘I was raised a Christian and… if my body is distributed back to nature it gives me images of my loved ones enjoying flowers and trees from it forever.’
He plans to sign up once it is approved, and then have his soil scattered over a nature reserve in Indiana where he is from.
This graphic shows the process of human composting, which is already legal in five other states than New York, including California, Washington, Vermont, Oregon and Colorado
New York City-based investor Howard Fischer, 63, is a supporter who sees human composting as an eco-friendly way to return his remains to the earth as fresh, fertile soil when he dies
Bernard O’Brien, 65, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York City, said the process of having his body naturally decompose is ‘comforting’ as it allows for his remains to convert back into nature
And like O’Brien, about 200 people asked for their remains to go through the process to date, with another 1,200 currently on a waiting list.
Michelle Menter, manager at Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, a cemetery in central New York, said the facility would ‘strongly consider’ the alternative method.
‘It definitely is more in line with what we do,’ she added.
The 130-acre (52-hectare) nature preserve cemetery, nestled between protected forest land, offers natural, green burials which is when a body can be placed in a biodegradable container and into a gravesite so that it can decompose fully.
‘Every single thing we can do to turn people away from concrete liners and fancy caskets and embalming, we ought to do and be supportive of,’ she said.
Guests place wood chips and straw on a shrouded mannequin near the vessel before leaving the body to decompose for 30-31 days
A shrouded mannequin covered with flowers rests near a composting vessel miming what happens to human corpses before they start decomposing
However, not all are onboard with the idea.
The New York State Catholic Conference, a group that represents bishops in the state, has long opposed the bill, calling the burial method ‘inappropriate.’
‘A process that is perfectly appropriate for returning vegetable trimmings to the earth is not necessarily appropriate for human bodies,’ Dennis Poust, executive director of the organization, said in a statement.
‘Human bodies are not household waste, and we do not believe that the process meets the standard of reverent treatment of our earthly remains,’ he said.
Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, displays a sample of the compost material left from the decomposition of a cow, using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw, as she poses in a cemetery in Seattle
Katrina Spade, the founder of Recompose, a full-service green funeral home in Seattle that offers human composting, said it offers an alternative for people wanting to align the disposition of their remains with how they lived their lives.
She said ‘it feels like a movement’ among the environmentally aware.
‘Cremation uses fossil fuels and burial uses a lot of land and has a carbon footprint,’ said Spade. ‘For a lot of folks being turned into soil that can be turned to grow into a garden or tree is pretty impactful.’
Four more states — Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts and Minnesota — are also looking to legalize human composting. Bills supporting the process failed in Hawaii and Maine.