ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Howard Fischer, a 63-year-old investor living north of New York City, has one wish for when he dies. He wants his remains to be placed in a container, decomposed by tiny microbes, and composted in rich, fertile soil.
Perhaps their composted remains could be planted outside the family home in Vermont, or perhaps they could be returned to the ground elsewhere. “Whatever my family decides to do with the compost after it’s done is up to them,” Fischer said.
“I am committed to having my body composted and my family knows it,” he added. “But I would love it to happen in New York, where I live, instead of traveling across the country.”
Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation Saturday to legalize natural organic reduction, popularly known as human composting, making New York the sixth state in the nation to allow such a burial method.
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, eco-friendly method of burial aligns with his philosophical vision of life: living in an environmentally conscious way.
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 blend creates the perfect habitat for natural microbes to do their job, quickly and efficiently breaking down the body in about a month.
The end result is one heaping cubic yard of nutrient-rich soil amendment, the equivalent of about 36 bags of soil, which can be used to plant trees or enrich conservation lands, forests or gardens.
For urban areas like New York City, where land is limited, it can be seen as quite an attractive burial alternative.
Michelle Menter, manager of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, a cemetery in central New York, said the facility would “seriously consider” the alternative method.
“It’s definitely more in line with what we do,” he added.
The 130-acre (52-hectare) Nature Reserve Cemetery, nestled among protected forests, offers natural, green burials, which is when a body can be placed in a biodegradable container and in a grave so it can fully decompose.
“Anything we can do to get people away from concrete linings, fancy coffins and embalming, we must do and support,” he said.
But not everyone agrees with the idea.
The New York State Catholic Conference, a group that represents bishops in the state, has long opposed the bill, calling the burial method “inappropriate.”
“A process that is perfectly appropriate for returning vegetable trimmings to the ground is not necessarily appropriate for human bodies,” Dennis Poust, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.
“Human bodies are not household waste and we do not believe the process meets the standard of reverent treatment of our earthly remains,” he said.
Katrina Spade, founder of Recompose, a full-service green funeral home in Seattle that offers human composting, said it offers an alternative for people who want to align the disposal of their remains with how they lived their lives.
She said it “feels like a movement” among environmentalists.
“Cremation uses fossil fuels and burial uses a lot of land and has a carbon footprint,” Spade said. “For many people, becoming land that can be converted to grow into a garden or a tree is quite a shock.”
Maysoon Khan is a staff member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on covert issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter at: twitter.com/MaysoonKhan.
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