The Departed Could Soon Become Compost in Colorado

DENVER — Food scraps and biodegradable utensils are common fodder for compost, but in Colorado, human remains could soon be transformed into soil too.

The Colorado state Legislature passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow composting of human remains in lieu of traditional processes like burial and cremation.

State Representative Brianna Titone, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said she had gone to funerals and, seeing burial or cremation as the two options, thought, “I don’t know if I want either one of these things.”

When she learned about human composting, she said, “It really excited me.”

If Gov. Jared Polis signs the bill into law, which legislators said was likely, Colorado would become the second state to legalize human composting. Washington State did so in 2019, and legislators in Oregon, California and New York have proposed human composting legislation. A representative for Mr. Polis did not respond to a request for comment regarding his position on the bill.

The legislation was introduced last year, but “it ended up dying during the Covid session, no pun intended,” said Representative Matt Soper, a Republican who was a co-sponsor of the bill.

In an attempt to lighten the mood while discussing the bill at the State Capitol on Monday, Ms. Titone and Mr. Soper told their colleagues they had “resurrected” the bill from last year’s legislative session. “Look alive!” Ms. Titone said, introducing the discussion. “We know you dug it before.”

The process of human composting takes about 30 days, Mr. Soper said. Under the new law, it would be illegal to sell the soil produced from human compost or to use it to grow food for human consumption.

Mr. Soper said he had spoken with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which said it would be legal to place the soil on public lands.

Recompose, a company that offers human composting services in Washington, places the body onto a bed of wood chips, alfalfa and straw inside a steel, 8-foot-long by 4-foot-tall cylinder, according to its website. Each body creates about one cubic yard of soil.

“Everything — including bones and teeth — transforms” during the process, its website says. The contents of the cylinder are also blended by Recompose staff members, “which helps to break up any remaining bone fragments and teeth.”

However, nonorganic material like prosthetics and artificial joints are fetched from the cylinder and removed.

Katrina Spade, Recompose’s co-founder and chief executive, said on Wednesday that the company was already looking at locations in the Denver area, where it hopes to build a 50-cylinder facility if the bill becomes law.

Ms. Spade said people in Colorado had expressed interest in Recompose, adding that “there is an ethos of ecological love and respect in the Denver area and in Colorado broadly, everywhere from the mountains to the farming that happens around the state.”

She said that Recompose’s process saved about one metric ton of carbon dioxide for each body that is composted rather than cremated or buried traditionally. Mr. Soper, who represents a rural part of Colorado, said some of his liberal constituents were interested in human composting for its environmental benefits.

Among his more conservative constituents from the agricultural community, Mr. Soper said, there are “farmers or ranchers who really like the idea of being connected to the land that they were born and raised on.”

The bill received bipartisan support in the Colorado Senate, but 18 votes against it in the House, all from Republicans. Mr. Soper said they had raised concerns that composting was not a “dignified” way to dispose of remains, some citing the Catholic Church’s opposition to the practice.

But Mr. Soper said that for him, the matter was less about explicitly supporting human composting and more about offering the choice.

“Why not?” he said. “Why should the government be prohibiting this type of option to be available to Coloradans?”

Mr. Soper said that Colorado was among the states with the fewest regulations for crematories and funeral homes, making it ideal for new human composting businesses.

Recompose has patents pending on its cylinders, but not on the human composting process, Ms. Spade said, adding that she hopes that human composting becomes “the default choice for death care.”

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