Things in California keep getting more and more “unique.” A new law signed last weekend by CA Gov. Gavin Newsom will now allow Golden State residents to turn their bodies into compost material upon their death.

Yes, you are reading this correctly.

Specifically, the new law requires officials in California to develop regulations and practices for what is being called “natural organic reduction,” by the year 2027.

If you can believe it, California isn’t even the first blue state to legalize the practice.

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How It Works

Fellow blue state Washington became the first in the country in 2019, followed by Colorado, Oregon, and Vermont.

So what gives? A Seattle area funeral home called Recompose explains on their website how the process works. “Beneficial microbes” that occur in the human body and the environment is the basis for the practice. 

The body is wrapped, and laid in a box along with a healthy amount of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw, and left to decompose for 30 days.

According to the funeral home website, each human body can produce one cubic yard of soil “amendment,” which is just a fancy way of saying that the decomposing human body is turned into fertilizer.

Then, it’s back to the earth.

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The Pro-Compost Argument

Those in favor of the practice point to environmental side effects of the two current options, burial or cremation. An estimate from National Geographic states that one cremation can produce an average of 534.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. The total number of cremations on the U.S. annually is roughly 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. 

If one opts to be buried instead of cremated, there are other considerations. To bury one human body, it takes around three gallons of embalming liquid. Embalming liquid contains such things as formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol. Those chemicals can work their way into the soil. 

Surprisingly, the costs involved behind the process are not great. The cost of the service runs between $5,000 and $7,000, which makes it a bit less costly than a burial, but will run a bit more than cremation.

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The Ethics Of It All

Obviously, there are ethical concerns that need to be addressed. The Colorado law states that the soil of multiple bodies cannot be combined without consent. Also, the soil cannot be sold or used to grow food for human consumption.

(That’s a relief.)

In California, the new law states that the combining of several peoples’ remains is prohibited unless they are related. However, California does not explicitly prohibit sale of the soil or use for growing food for human consumption.

Also in California, the new law has taken heat from the Catholic Church, saying the practice “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.” 

Kathleen Domingo is the executive director of the California Catholic Conference. She states that, “NOR (natural organic reduction) uses essentially the same process as a home gardening composting system.”

She added, “These methods of disposal were used to lessen the possibility of disease being transmitted by the dead carcass. Using these same methods for the ‘transformation’ of human remains can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased.”

While most Californians may not be concerned about the afterlife or the spiritual effects, how many will be excited to bite into their next salad?

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