In 2020, Washington became the first state to pass a law allowing for more environmentally friendly methods to dispose of human remains. Since then, a method known as “human composting” has gained in popularity here and in other states.
Alternative methods to traditional burial and cremation have become more popular in recent years. One option in particular that has gained traction and become more readily available in Washington state in the last three years is natural organic reduction, or “human composting.”
Human composting occurs when human remains are placed into a container, and natural materials like mulch and plants may be added. The conditions in the container are monitored and adjusted to control the amount of water, oxygen, and heat in the container as well. Over a period lasting about a month or two, the remains break down naturally and are converted into soil. The deceased person’s family can then receive some of the soil if they would like, which can be used just like other composted materials, for example, in forests and gardens. The remains of one person typically generate about one cubic yard of soil.
Not everyone is eligible for human composting services. For example, people who have undergone specific medical treatments or have certain diseases before death are ineligible for human composting due to state safety regulations ensuring that no harmful pathogens remain in the composted soil.
The Washington law allowing human composting took effect in May 2020. At that time, Washington was the first state to pass such a law. Since then, several licensed operators have opened their doors to provide the service. Currently, there appears to be at least three operators offering human composting services within the state. Prices for the service range from $3,000 to $7,000, and some providers offer the ability to prepay for their services so that the cost is already taken care of at death.
Since the time that Washington signed its human composting bill into law (which also legalized liquid cremation, another environmentally friendly form of remains disposition), Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, California, New York, and Nevada have passed similar laws. Other states including Massachusetts, Illinois, Maine, Rhode Island, and Minnesota have also introduced similar bills that have not yet become law.
The best way to indicate your wishes regarding the disposition of your remains after death is to memorialize them in a Disposition of Remains document. If you would like assistance with preparing this kind of document, please reach out to Allison Int-Hout, Ryan Montgomery, or any of the other estate planning attorneys at Montgomery Purdue.