Delaware Bill Allowing ‘Human Composting’ Goes to Governor’s Desk

Delaware may very well become the eighth state in the nation to legalize a post-mortem process that may sound a bit strange: naturally composting human bodies.
human composting
A dummy posed in a human composting container. Courtesy: Recompose

The Delaware state House legislature passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow people to have their bodies composted rather than buried or cremated.

According to the Associated Press, the practice known as “natural organic reduction” was passed by a vote of 37-2 and now goes to Governor John Carney’s desk for ultimate authorization or denial. 

This bill would not allow people to just toss their dead relatives on their backyard compost pile willy-nilly. The process would still have to be undertaken by licensed morticians and otherwise approved handlers of dead people so as not to create a very uncomfortable and smelly situation for neighbors and such. 

The process of human composting, according to the Associated Press report, takes about 30 days or more depending on the process and is performed in a large tank where the body is mixed with wood chips, straw and other organic materials much like traditional compost of non-human materials. The mixture is exposed to warm air, turned periodically and after full decomposition it would be returned to the family of the deceased to be used in the garden, to plant trees, vegetables or whatever they please. 

“At the time of laying in, our staff places the body into a composting vessel surrounded by a mixture of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw carefully calibrated for each individual,” said Recompose, a Washington-based human composting service on their website. “Much like the moment when a body is interred into the earth during a burial, the laying in represents a moment of transition. The vessel is closed and the transformation into soil begins.”

Chief sponsor of the bill, Rep. Sean Lynn told the Associated Press that the practice is considered a “gentle, respectful, environmentally friendly death care option.”

“Natural organic reduction is a sophisticated process that applies cutting-edge technology and engineering to accelerate the natural process of turning a body into soil,” Rep. Lynn said to the Associated Press.

If the bill passes the governor’s desk, Delaware would become the eighth state to legalize human composting behind Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, New York and Nevada. Rep. Lynn said that soil testing in these states of compost made from human remains has shown the soil to be “high quality and regenerative.”

This practice has been hailed by environmental activists as less energy-consuming than cremation and more environmentally friendly than other traditional burial methods, especially those that utilize chemicals like formaldehyde. The process also does not add to the need for more cemetery space, which a Georgia cemetery owner estimated to be over 1 million acres of land in the United States alone. 

“My first reaction was: Why haven’t we done this before? It’s not really a new idea. It’s just new-ish that we’re applying it to humans.” said Jennifer DeBruyn, an environmental microbiology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to CNBC in February of 2023.

The language of the Delaware bill would preclude human remains from being used for composting should they contain any radioactive implants such as those used to treat cancer without the need for surgery. Remains confirmed to have certain infections such as Ebola or neurodegenerative disorders such as mad cow disease would also not be eligible under the law if passed. More specific regulations are slated to be developed over the next year if the bill is passed. 

“We’ve got 29-year-olds in Miami signing up. Young people are going to teach us how to die better,” said Micah Truman to CNBC, CEO of Return Home, a Seattle-based human composting facility.

One might think this process would be cheaper than traditional burial services but it can actually be a bit more expensive given the cost of materials. For instance, Recompose charges about $7,000 for their human composting services whereas the average cost of cremation in the same state is about $6,028 according to Choice Mutual. Burials do tend to cost a bit more in most states, however. 

Seeing as how this is High Times, I would be remiss if I did not mention, in writing where my legal representatives can see it, that after I die I would like my body to be composted and used to grow cannabis plants, peyote cacti and psilocybin mushrooms.

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