Connecticut could be the next state to legalize human composting
Step aside burial and cremation, a new bill would give Connecticut residents the option of a new after-death arrangement — composting.
Looking to reduce their carbon footprint even in death, the eco-conscious are turning to natural organic reduction, a decomposition method that rapidly transforms the human body into nutrient-rich soil. A group of state legislators in the Environment Committee is looking to legalize the practice in Connecticut.
“It empowers people to make their last act on earth be one that recognizes the sacredness of life rather than defouling it,” Rep. Christine Palm, the vice chairwoman of the Environment Committee, said. “It is the ultimate way to honor the Earth.”
Palm introduced one of three proposals in the state legislature to legalize human composting. Lawmakers are working to draft the three bills into a single piece of legislation that Palm hopes will go to the floor for a vote this session.
First launched in Washington in 2019, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York have all legalized natural organic reduction in a rapidly growing alternative burial movement.
The entire process takes roughly two to six months to complete. The body is placed in a capsule with organic material such as hay, flowers, straw and woodchips. With just enough oxygen and moisture, microbes in the body and the plants convert the material into a cubic yard of healthy soil that is screened for contaminants or pathogens.
Palm and others champion human composting as an option for people who want to contribute to a greener planet instead of choosing traditional burial and cremation methods that increase carbon emissions.
“We are in a climate crisis,” Palm said. “Everything we can do to put fewer pollutants into the world, including those from our own bodies, we should be doing.”
Experts estimate that a single cremation emits roughly 500 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon footprint of a traditional burial can result in emissions three times greater.
Each year, U.S. burials consume 30 million board feet of wood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and 5.3 million gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid, according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Glenn Cheney, the co-founder of Connecticut Green Burial Grounds, said that in recent years, the organization has received more traffic and inquiries to its website and Facebook from people looking to pursue more environmentally conscious post-life arrangements.
“People are becoming increasingly passionate about the health of the planet,” Cheney said. “A few years ago (a green burial) was simply not heard of, so interest has certainly increased recently, let’s say in the past five years.”
Green burials opt for a slower decomposition process than natural organic composting. Bodies are laid to rest in a biodegradable casket or shroud on a plot with no upright tombstones and minimal maintenance to support natural vegetation growth.
“It’s supposed to just eventually become a forest, (and) eventually just be returned to nature,” Cheney said.
Today there are five green burial grounds in Connecticut that lie adjacent to traditional cemeteries, but Cheney explained that prior to the civil war and the widespread practice of embalming, every burial was green.
Cheney referred to today’s cemeteries as a “toxic waste dump.” He said that if Connecticut residents want the option of human composting, they should be able to pursue it adding that he hopes the bill makes it through this session.
Others are not so hopeful. During a public hearing, the human composting proposal received pushback from Connecticut residents who said the concept is, “ an extreme dehumanization of the final stages of human life,” that promotes ” disrespect of the human body, with noregard to faith,” and is “ antithetical to the dignity of green burial.”
Rep. Keith Denning, the author of another human composting bill, said that he understands concern over respect.
“I think what most people are concerned about is the dirt. What is the dirt going to be like? Is it going to look like dirt? Is it going to act like dirt? What are you going to do with the dirt? Their concern is primarily that the dirt be respectfully put back into the ground,” Denning said. “People don’t want this used to be growing vegetable gardens and they don’t want it to be used for producing food. And that’s a misconception. This is not to be used to grow your vegetables.”
Denning decided to draft his human composting bill after he and his wife learned about natural organic reduction while researching their own post-life plans. They both agreed that it is their wish to undergo the process after they pass.
Denning said that since the introduction into the legislature, established, natural organic reduction companies from out of state have reached out to him about expanding into Connecticut after legalization.
“Not only have companies reached out to me about doing it here, but local and statewide mortuary services have talked with me about doing it,” Denning said.
Denning explained that many human composting companies partner with environmental efforts. Families can decide whether to donate all or a portion of their loved one’s soil to a growing forest or interment fields.
“Some people have taken it and spread the dirt of their loved ones on family wildflower spots where that person may or not have been an avid gardener in much the same way they do ashes,” Denning said.
For Denning, the composted soil would receive the same respect as all remains.
“I see it as you would treat the remains of the soil the same way you would treat the remains of the person, with reverence, respect and with the memorial service,” Denning said.