DENVER – Food scraps and biodegradable paraphernalia are common compost feed, but in Colorado, human remains could soon be turned into soil too.
Colorado state law passed a bill on Tuesday to allow the composting of human remains instead of traditional processes like burial and cremation.
State Representative Brianna Titone, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said she went to funerals and viewed funeral or cremation as the two options and thought, “I don’t know if I want any of those things.”
When she found out about human composting, she said, “I was really upset.”
If Governor Jared Polis signs the bill, which lawmakers say is likely, Colorado would be the second state to legalize human composting. Washington State did so in 2019, and lawmakers in Oregon, California, and New York have proposed laws to make people compost. A representative for Mr Polis did not respond to a request for comment on his position on the bill.
The legislation was introduced last year, but “she died during the Covid session, no pun intended,” said Representative Matt Soper, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill.
To improve the mood while discussing the bill at the State Capitol on Monday, Ms. Titone and Mr. Soper told their colleagues they had “revived” the bill from last year’s legislature. “Look Alive!” Said Mrs. Titone and introduced the discussion. “We know you’ve dug it up before.”
The process of human composting takes about 30 days, said Mr Soper. Under the new law, it would be illegal to sell the soil made from human compost or use it to grow food for human consumption.
Mr Soper said he spoke to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which said it was legal to place the soil on public land.
Recompose, a Washington company that provides human composting services, places the body on a bed of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw in an 8-foot long by 4-foot high steel cylinder, according to its website. Each body creates roughly one cubic meter of soil.
“Everything – including bones and teeth – changes” during the process, the website says. The contents of the cylinder are also mixed by Recompose staff “which will help break up any remaining bone fragments and teeth”.
However, non-organic material such as prostheses and artificial joints are pulled out of the cylinder and removed.
Recompose co-founder and chief executive Katrina Spade said Wednesday that the company was already considering locations in the Denver area that it hopes to build a 50-cylinder facility if the bill goes into effect.
Ms. Spade said the people of Colorado had expressed an interest in recompose, adding that “there is an ethos of environmental love and respect in the Denver area and in Colorado, everywhere from the mountains to agriculture, that takes place across the state . “
She said the process of recompose saved about a ton of carbon dioxide for each body that is composted rather than cremated or traditionally buried. Mr Soper, who represents a rural part of Colorado, said some of his liberal voters are interested in human composting to reap the environmental benefits.
Among his more conservative agricultural members, Soper said, there are “farmers or ranchers who really like the idea of being connected to the land they were born and raised on.”
The bill was supported by both parties in the Colorado Senate, but with 18 votes in the House of Representatives, all by Republicans. Mr Soper said they had raised concerns that composting was not a “dignified” way to dispose of remains, and some cited the Catholic Church’s opposition to the practice.
But Mr Soper said that for him it was less about explicitly supporting human composting and more about making the choice.
“Why not?” he said. “Why should the government forbid providing this type of option to Coloradans?”
Mr. Soper said Colorado is one of the few states with the fewest regulations on crematoria and funeral homes, making it ideal for new human composting businesses.
Recompose has pending patents on its cylinders, but not the human composting process, Ms. Spade said, hoping human composting will become “the standard choice for death care.”