New York passes human composting law, becomes 6th US state to do so

Howard Fisher, a 63-year-old investor living in upstate New York, has one wish when he dies. He wants his remains placed in a container, broken down by tiny microbes and composted into rich, fertile soil.

Perhaps his composted remains could be planted outside the family home in Vermont, or perhaps they could be returned to the land elsewhere. “Whatever my family chooses to do with the compost after it’s done is up to them,” Fisher said.

“I’m committed to composting my body and my family knows that,” she added. “But I’d love for it to happen in New York where I live instead of transporting myself across the country.”

Human Composting
This 2019 photo shows Howard Irwin Fischer in Vermont. Fischer is a proponent who sees human composting as an environmentally friendly way to return one’s remains to the earth as fresh, fertile soil when one dies.

Randee Fischer/AP

Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation Saturday to legalize natural organic reduction, commonly known as human composting, making New York the sixth state in the nation to allow this burial method.

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.

For Fisher, this alternative, green burial method aligns with his philosophy on life: living in an environmentally conscious way.

The process is as follows: the body of the deceased is placed in a reusable container along with plant material such as sawdust, alfalfa and straw. The organic mixture creates the perfect habitat for natural microbes to do their work, quickly and efficiently destroying the body in about a month.

The end result is a pile of nutrient-dense, cubic meters of soil, equivalent to about 36 bags of soil, that can be used to plant trees or enrich conservation land, forests or gardens.

For urban areas like New York where land is limited, it can be seen as quite an attractive burial alternative.

Michelle Menter, director at Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, a cemetery in central New York, said the facility would “strongly consider” the alternative method.

“It’s definitely more in line with what we do,” he added.

The 130-acre (52-hectare) nature conservation cemetery, nestled among protected woodland, offers natural, green burials, where a body can be placed in a biodegradable container and a grave to fully decompose.

“Anything we can do to get people away from concrete linings and fancy caskets and embalming, we should do and support,” he said.

But not everyone has the idea.

The New York State Catholic Conference, a group representing bishops in the state, has long opposed the bill, calling the burial method “inappropriate.”

“A process that is perfectly suitable for returning vegetables to the earth is not necessarily suitable for human bodies,” Dennis Poust, the agency’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Human bodies are not household waste and we do not believe the process meets the standard of reverent treatment of our earthly remains,” he said.

Katrina Spade, the founder of Recompose, a green funeral home in Seattle that offers human composting, said it offers an alternative for those who want to align the disposition of their remains with the way they lived their lives.

He said it “feels like a movement” among the environmentally conscious.

“Cremation uses fossil fuels and burial uses a lot of land and has a carbon footprint,” Spade said. “For many people to turn into soil that can be turned into a garden or a tree is very impactful.”

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