Albany, New York – Howard Fischer, a 63-year-old investor living upstate New York City, had a wish after his death. He hopes to place his remains in a container where tiny microbes will decompose and compost them into fertile soil.
Perhaps his composted remains could be planted outside the family home in Vermont, or they could be returned to land elsewhere. “Whatever my family chooses to do with the compost is up to them when the compost is done,” Fischer said.
“I’m committed to composting my body and my family knows it,” he added. “But I want it to happen in New York, where I live, rather than transporting myself across the country.”
On Saturday, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation legalizing natural organic reduction, commonly known as human composting, making New York the sixth U.S. state to allow the method of burial.
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 Fischer, this alternative green burial fits with his philosophy of life: living in an environmentally responsible manner.
The process goes like this: The body of the deceased is placed in a reusable container along with plant material such as wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The organic mixture creates the perfect habitat for naturally occurring microbes to do their job, breaking down the body quickly and efficiently in about a month.
The end result is a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil amendment, equivalent to about 36 bags of soil, that can be used to plant trees or enrich land, forests, or gardens.
For urban areas like New York City, where land is limited, it can be considered a very attractive burial option.
Michelle Menter, manager of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, a cemetery in central New York, said the facility would “seriously consider” alternatives.
“It’s definitely more in line with what we do,” she added.
The 130-acre (52-hectare) nature reserve cemetery is nestled among protected woodlands and offers natural, green burials where the body can be placed in a biodegradable container and placed in the cemetery, allowing it to completely decompose .
“Everything we can do to keep people away from concrete liners, fancy coffins and embalming, we should do it and support it,” she said.
But not everyone supports the idea.
The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops, has long opposed the bill, calling the burial “inappropriate.”
“Processes that are perfectly suitable for returning vegetable scraps to Earth are not necessarily suitable for the human body,” Dennis Post, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.
“The human body is not household waste, and we don’t think this process meets the standard of reverent treatment of our remains,” he said.
Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, a full-service green funeral home in Seattle that offers body composting, says it offers another option for people who want to tailor their body disposal to their lifestyle.
Among the environmentally conscious crowd, “it feels like a movement,” she said.
“Cremation uses fossil fuels, and burial uses a lot of land and creates a carbon footprint,” Spade said. “For a lot of people, being turned into soil that can be turned into a garden or a tree is very impactful.”
Maysoon Khan is a member of the Associated Press/American State House News Initiative. US report is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undisclosed issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter: twitter.com/MaysoonKhan.
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