Story at a glance

  • A bill currently making its way through the California state legislature would make it legal for people to be made into soil after they die.
  • The process works by placing the body in a container with organic material like wood chips, alfalfa and straw, so it will break down naturally.
  • Over about a month, the body breaks down into about one cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil, and “can be used to enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens.”

When you die in California, you’re really only left with two options: burial or cremation. 

But now lawmakers in the state are considering a third option that could be more environmentally friendly, as conventional burials eat up millions of acres of land and cremation requires the burning of fossil fuels and gas, although the state also allows cremation by water. 

A bill currently making its way through the California state legislature would make it legal for people to be made into soil after they die. 

The measure, AB 501, would give Californians the choice of “natural organic reduction,” or the composting of human remains.

The process works by placing the body in a container with organic material like wood chips, alfalfa and straw, so it will break down naturally. Over about a month, the body breaks down into about one cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil, and “can be used to enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens,” according to Recompose, the Seattle-based company that developed the process. 


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Recompose estimates that the process saves the equivalent of  one metric ton of CO2 per person from entering the environment. Recompose did not immediately respond to Changing America’s request for comment. 

“NOR [Natural Organic Reduction] uses a much lower volume of resources like fossil fuels than conventional burial or cremation,” Recompose says on its website

“Also, the process itself transforms the organic material of our bodies and the plant materials into soil. This sequesters some of the carbon in that soil material. Rather than being released as carbon dioxide gas through exhaust during a cremation, the carbon matter contained in each body returns to the earth,” Recompose states. 

Several other states have already beat California to the punch in legalizing the process, including Washington, Colorado and Oregon. 

The bill is currently being considered in California's state senate.


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Published on Aug 12, 2021