SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will begin allowing an alternative burial method known as human composting in 2027, under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday.
Assembly Bill 351 by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) will create a state regulatory process for natural organic reduction, a method in which human remains naturally decompose over a 30-to-45-day period after being placed in a steel vessel and buried in wood chips, alfalfa and other biodegradable materials. The nutrient-dense soil created by the process can then be returned to families or donated to conservation land.
Supporters say it’s an eco-friendly alternative to traditional end-of-life options. Cremation, for example, is an energy-intense process that produces carbon dioxide emissions, while traditional burial uses chemicals to embalm bodies and a nonbiodegradable coffin to store them.
California will join Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Vermont in allowing human composting.
“With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere,” Garcia said in a statement.
“This new law will provide California’s 39 million residents with a meaningful funeral option that offers significant savings in carbon emissions, water and land usage over conventional burial or cremation,” said Katrina Spade, chief executive of Recompose, a Seattle-based company that was the first funeral home to build a human composting facility in the country. “Our end-of-life choices matter in the effort to heal this planet.”
The California Catholic Conference opposed the bill, saying the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”
Newsom signed the bill without comment.
Human composting is slightly less expensive than a casket funeral, but at around $5,000-$7,000, it is more costly than cremation. The soil created by the human composting process could be used on private land with permission and otherwise would be subject to the same restrictions as scattering cremated remains in the state.
“This is a question of consumer choice, and Californians should have access to a ‘deathcare’ option that is natural, carbon neutral and a sustainable alternative to cremation or burial,” said Tom Harries, co-founder of Earth Funeral, which offers the burial option. “Earth Funeral looks forward to bringing soil transformation to California so that anyone can make this choice for themselves or to honor their loved ones.”