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California becomes fifth state to legalize human composting

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The state of California this week became the fifth state in the United States to legalize the practice of human composting, or being buried with compostable materials as an alternative to traditional burial or cremation.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 351 into law on Sunday, allowing California residents the third option for their final wishes. The practice of human composting has previously been legalized in Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, and Washington.

The practice is carried out by interring the body in a steel box with materials like alfalfa, straw and wood chips, which are biodegradable and compostable, that will aid in the decomposition of the body, ultimately turning it into nutrient-rich soil.

The process, officially known as natural organic reduction (NOR), works by using the materials in the box with the remains to allow a combination of microbes to decompose the body, turning it into soil that is then cured for six weeks. It can then be used in flower beds or donated to nature conservation areas in California.

NOR is considered an environmentally-friendly cremation alternative. “With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment,” said bill author Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, “natural organic reduction is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”

Katrina Spade, the CEO of Recompose, a Seattle-based funeral home that specializes in the NOR told The Sacramento Bee, “Natural organic reduction is safe and sustainable, allowing our bodies to return to the land after we die.”

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