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Californians will soon be able to turn their remains into soil with human composting

By Zoe Sottile, CNN

California has become the latest state to provide its residents with an eco-friendly, if unorthodox, option for their remains after death: composting.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law last Sunday, according to a news release from the bill’s author, state Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia.

The process is officially called “natural organic reduction,” and involves “fostering gentle transformation into a nutrient-dense soil, which can then be returned to families or donated to conservation land,” the release explained.

Natural organic reduction is less harmful to the environment than the other two legal options (cremation and burial), according to the release. Burial can allow chemicals to leek into the soil, and cremation requires the burning of fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide.

The law will not go into effect until January 2027, according to the text of the bill. The law stipulates the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, a subdivision of the Department of Consumer Affairs, will develop regulations for facilities performing the process.

In the release, Garcia called natural organic reduction “an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere and will actually capture CO2 in our soil and trees.”

“If more people participate in organic reduction and tree-planting, we can help with California’s carbon footprint,” she said. “This bill has been in the works for the last three years, and I am very happy that it was signed into law. I look forward to continuing my legacy to fight for clean air by using my reduced remains to plant a tree.”

Recompose, a company which has been offering natural organic reduction services since 2020, also lauded the law in the release.

“Recompose is thrilled that the options for nature-based death care in California have expanded,” said the company’s CEO and founder Katrina Spade in the release. “Natural organic reduction is safe and sustainable, allowing our bodies to return to the land after we die.”

According to Recompose’s website, natural organic reduction works much like composting your vegetable scraps does. The body is placed in a vessel along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over a month, microbes work to break the body down into a cubic yard of soil, which can then be used in a loved one’s garden, or anywhere else.

Washington became the first state to legalize so-called “human composting” in 2019. Lawmakers similarly cited the ecological benefits of reduction over burial and cremation.

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