New York Expands Green Burial Options With Human Composting

The Empire State becomes the sixth in the US to legalize the eco-friendly burial alternative.

human body about to be put in Recompose composting facility

Mat Hayward / Getty Images

The nationwide effort to legalize the green burial alternative known as human composting or “natural organic reduction” is welcoming New York into the fold. On Dec. 30, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation, earlier approved by the state Assembly and Senate, officially legalizing human composting and expanding the list of eco-friendly burial methods available to New Yorkers after death. 

"I have to admit, when I first heard about it, I go, oh my god, this is weird, but when you think more about it, it's not weird. In fact, it's a very good choice, and I think will become the choice for families over time," Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the bill’s sponsor, told CBS News.

Since Washington became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, five other states have followed—with Colorado and Oregon in 2021 and California, Vermont, and New York in 2022.

“Every single thing we can do to turn people away from concrete liners and fancy caskets and embalming, we ought to do and be supportive of,” Michelle Menter, manager at Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve outside Ithaca, NY, told The Guardian.

How the Human Composting System Works

Human composting is a process that transforms a deceased person's body into soil. It is similar to traditional composting methods, which involve decomposing organic materials through the use of microorganisms in a controlled environment. In the case of human composting, a body is placed in a specially designed vessel along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. This vessel is then sealed and placed in a temperature-controlled space, where it is supplied with oxygen.

Over the course of several months, the microorganisms break down the organic matter, including the bones, until all that remains is a small volume of soil. This soil can be given to the deceased person's family, or it can be donated to farms or conservation efforts as a sustainable alternative to traditional burial or cremation methods.

“So basically, all we humans need to do is create the right environment for nature to do its job,” Katrina Spade, founder of the human composting company Recompose, told NPR’s Manoush Zomorodi. “It's like the opposite of antibacterial soap. Instead of fighting them, we welcome microbes and bacteria in with open arms. These tiny, amazing creatures break down molecules into smaller molecules and atoms, which are then incorporated into new molecules.”

Katrina Spade of Recompose
Katrina Spade of Recompose.

Mat Hayward / Getty Images

How Much Does Human Composting Cost?

Human composting costs range from $5,000 to nearly $8,000, depending on the provider. While that puts the burial method on par with the average funeral (between $7,000-$8,000) and above cremation ($2,000-$5,000), proponents expect human composting costs to become more competitive as the practice is adopted and more firms offer the service. 

“I think as consumers demand more ecologically-focused death-care options, funeral homes all over the place are going to want to offer those,” Spade told the LA Business Journal. “Whether it’s partnering with a company like Recompose to get their clients to us or whether it’s licensing the (human composting) technology from a company like Recompose—(funeral homes) are investigating those kinds of options.”

For those interested, the major players—all of which accept bodies from out-of-state—include the Washington-based Recompose and Return Home and The Natural Funeral in Colorado. It’s expected that some, if not all three, will expand to other states as human composting is legalized across the country.

“The concept for this is difficult in itself to explain to people, having only been available for humans for a year or so,” Shawn LaValleur-Adame, funeral director of DIY Dying in California, said. “For it to already be making this kind of headway in legislation is already fantastic. I think if we talk more about greener options as a whole, it might gain even more headway.”