Why California Should Legalize Human Composting

By Avalon Kelly

As of now, many people only consider two post-mortem options: traditional cemetery burial and cremation.  However, some states have recently legalized another form of burial: human composting.  Human composting is a 30-day process of “natural organic reduction” (NOR) which results in about one cubic yard of soil per body, according to Recompose, the first human composting company in the United States.  In California, three bills have already been introduced regarding the legalization of NOR: the first was shelved following the pandemic of 2020, and the second did not pass.  The third, AB351, has passed in the Assembly and awaits a hearing in the Senate.  California should pass this bill because human composting has multiple positive environmental impacts and it widens the post-mortem options for California citizens.

Human composting provides an alternative to more environmentally harmful burial options and fosters a healthy environment.  Traditional cemetery burial can release toxins into the ground and pollute local groundwater.  According to the National Library of Medicine, toxic chemicals from “substances that were used in embalming and burial practices” are a notable cause of contamination of soil and groundwater and can negatively impact the health of nearby citizens.  Additionally, each cremation produces an average of 534.6 pounds of carbon dioxide.  These harmful impacts are hard to ignore, especially as our state is working harder than ever to combat climate change and provide eco-friendly alternatives.  Luckily, human composting not only avoids environmentally harmful practices, but also contributes to healthier soil.  Healthy soil helps to regulate water distribution, promote life, filter pollutants, distribute nutrients, and encourage healthy plant growth.  The positive impacts of human composting make it a “green” method of burial compared to other modern options.

Those fighting against the legalization of NOR often cite religious reasons.  Perhaps the most notable opposer to the process, the Catholic Church, holds that the process does not respect the body.  While this is a completely valid reason for individuals to not choose human composting as their burial option, it should not prevent others from choosing NOR as their after-life option.  Over the summer, I worked as an intern in the office of a local assemblymember.  I would read many bill comments during my time there, but one in particular stood out to me—it said, “Please legalize human composting so that I will have an environmentally friendly way to dispose of my body after I die.  I am very old and hope to see this pass in time for my death.”  A person should have the freedom to choose an environmentally friendly method of burial with respect to their personal beliefs.  Despite religious differences, we can respect the choices of others in decisions such as this and give them the freedom to do what they want with their body.

In conclusion, NOR provides a unique after-life option with its environmentally friendly practices, and thus California citizens should have the right to choose this as their method of burial.