File image courtesy of Molt Studios
An artist's rendering of a future Recompose facility with vessels.
"If I should die before I wake / All my bone and sinew take
Put me in the compost pile / To decompose me a little while
Worms, water, sun will have their way / Returning me to common clay
All that I am will feed the trees / And little fishes in the seas."
— from "In Dead Earnest," by Lee Hays
Folk legends Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger first recorded those somewhat tongue-in-cheek lyrics back in 1981. Nearly 40 years later, corpses on the compost heap may soon become a reality.
The February 27, 2019 "Whisky Tango Foxtrot" column answered the question, "Why Can't Vermonters Be Composted When They Die?"
Though nothing has changed on that front in the Green Mountain State, Washington is poised to become the first state in the nation to legalize the process of facilitated bodily breakdown.
As Seattle altweekly the Stranger reported April 19
, Senate bill 5001 passed the state legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature. Assuming it's signed by Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, the new law would legalize the process of composting human remains, more delicately referred to as "recomposition" or "natural organic reduction." The law would take effect on May 1, 2020.
As Seven Days
reported in February, the mover and shaker behind this groundbreaking legislation is the aptly named Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose
, a Washington-based public benefit corporation that's looking to offer an eco-friendly alternative to conventional burial and cremation.
Spade, a New Hampshire native who studied sustainable design at Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield
, devised a method that "gently convert[s] human remains into soil “so that we can … nourish new life after we die." Through this process, bodies are placed inside reusable, hexagonal composters called "recomposition vessels." Recomposition, which takes about a month, breaks down the entire body — nails, teeth, bones and all.
Recompose has been endorsed by a number of end-of-life nonprofit organizations with roots in Vermont. They include the National Home Funeral Alliance
— whose work was inspired, in part, by Hinesburg home-funeral advocate Lisa Carlson — and the South Burlington-based Funeral Consumers Alliance.
What's the likelihood of Washington's governor signing the bill? As Spade tweeted on April 22,
"Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said that while the governor’s office is still reviewing the bill, 'this seems like a thoughtful effort to soften our footprint' on the Earth.' … we think so, too."