Last Updated on September 22, 2022
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, recently signed a bill that will allow the practice of composting deceased human beings in order to combat climate change. Assembly Bill 351 will give California residents the option to give their remains over to a process known as natural organic reduction (NOR) if they opt not to be buried or cremated.
“The process involves placing the body inside a long, reusable steel container along with wood chips and flowers to aerate it – allowing microbes and bacteria to break down the remains,” reported the Daily Mail. “One month later, the remains will fully decompose and be turned into soil.”
Proponents of the bill point to the carbon footprint left by the cremation process in voting for it. The act of cremation reportedly accounts for 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
California Democrat Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, who authored the bill, described NOR as a “more environmentally friendly” practice. Burial and cremation can “leach chemicals into the ground,” causing environmental damage, Garcia says.
“With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere. I look forward to continuing my legacy to fight for clean air by using my reduced remains to plant a tree,” wrote Garcia.
For each individual who chooses natural organic reduction (NOR) over conventional burial or cremation, the process saves the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment. @recomposelife
— Cristina Garcia (@AsmGarcia) September 19, 2022
Assembly Bill 351 does not prohibit the use of any material derived from the NOR process to be sold or used as soil to grow food for human consumption, The Christian Post reported. It is unclear how the state intends to track the soil or prevent this from happening, as regulatory is not yet available.
The Catholic Church is strongly opposed to the practice of NOR for human remains. The church has argued that the practice was meant to be used for livestock only; and that using it for humans will have negative spiritual and emotional effects.
In a statement provided to The Christian Post, Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCC) Executive Director Kathleen Domingo warned that the practice of human composting comes with several ethical issues, namely the use of human remains treated as a “mass grave.”
“Dispersing the remains in public locations, without an advisory to members of the public, risks people treading over human remains without their knowledge while repeated dispersions in the same area are tantamount to a mass grave,” Domingo said.
The law is set to take effect in 2027, at which point California will become the fifth state to green light the use of NOR. Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Vermont have already passed legislation that permits the practice.