After hearing from numerous constituents interested in reducing their impact on the planet in perpetuity, Rep. Michelle McGaw has introduced legislation to allow natural organic reduction — sometimes referred to as “human composting” — as an alternative to cremation or burial.
“Not everyone is comfortable with the impact of burial, which occupies land, or cremation, which emits a significant amount of carbon,” said Representative McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton). “Natural organic reduction is a greener alternative that may be preferable for those concerned about how their final wishes affect the planet. I have constituents who would like to have this option available, so I introduced this bill to start the conversation about whether and how to offer this possibility in Rhode Island.”
Natural human composting is performed indoors in specialized facilities equipped with vessels in which deceased bodies are placed along with organic matter that helps speed the natural decomposition process. The chambers keep the vessels warm, between 130 to 160 degrees, and the contents are “blended” regularly over the course of four to seven weeks. The result is about a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil.
Washington state legalized the practice in 2019, and since then five more states, including New York have followed suit.
Representative McGaw’s legislation, which she introduced Thursday, establishes laws for the creation and operation of natural organic reduction facilities in Rhode Island. The facilities would be licensed and regulated by the Department of Health, which would be responsible for enforcing all applicable health and safety regulations.
Under the bill as written, once the process is complete, the resulting material would need to be scattered in a cemetery in a designated garden or area there; placed in a grave, crypt or niche; or retrieved by the family of the deceased.
The process is designed to reduce the impact on the earth, compared to burial or cremation. Burial involves occupying land and uses resources involved in caskets, grave liners and gravestones. Cremation requires the burning of fossil fuel and results in average of 534 pounds of carbon in the atmosphere per cremation – the equivalent of driving a car 500 miles.
Representative McGaw said she expects the bill would undergo changes during the legislative process, and that she introduced it as a start to the conversation – albeit one that, like many matters concerning death, may make some people uncomfortable. But others will find comfort in the prospect of going to their final resting place as part of the earth, helping to support life in the future.
“For people who have respected the earth and tried to lighten their impact on it in life, it makes sense to also want to take the greenest, most environmentally beneficial route in death. This is an option that we should work to make available here in Rhode Island, for our people and for our planet,” said Representative McGaw.
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