Americans Are Being Turned Into Human Compost to Save the Planet

"Your final act is one of pollution," Tom Harries, co-founder and CEO of Earth Funeral, told Newsweek. "More steel is put into the ground each year than was used to build the Golden Gate Bridge... and each cremation is equivalent to a 600-mile car journey in terms of carbon dioxide."

Every year, more than 3.3 million people in America die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "We can't just keep putting bodies in the ground," said Harries.

natural burial
A stock image of a funeral heart marking a natural burial. People are becoming increasingly eager to find eco-friendly burial options. Imagesines/Getty

Burial is expensive and bad for the environment, and cremation isn't much better. "There has been very little innovation in this space for decades. [But] the industry is changing just like any other," Harries said. "People want environmentally friendly options."

Thanks to recent advances in technology, new burial methods are starting to be developed.

You can now be turned into a tree in a biodegradable burial pod or decomposed by a steady flow of water, in what is known as an aqua cremation. Alternatively, you can be buried in a "mushroom death suit"— perhaps the most eco-friendly method of all.

Now, a new planet-friendly option has been made legal in California: human composting.

soil
A stock image of hands holding soil. In human composting, the nutrients in our bodies are transformed into soil. tortoon/Getty

Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, the bill introduces new regulatory processes for "natural organic reduction" that will come into effect in 2027.

"Cremation and conventional burial both have a significant carbon footprint," Katrina Spade, founder and CEO of Recompose, told Newsweek. "One due to carbon release, the other due to the transport and manufacture of caskets and grave liners. When you choose human composting, you avoid the carbon footprint of both those methods.

"With human composting, we could save about a metric ton of carbon per person."

recompose vessel
An image of a Recompose vessel with dummy figure. Soil transformation can save one ton of carbon per person. Recompose

Recompose charges $7000 for its human composting, also known as soil transformation, which uses natural decomposition to lock carbon into the soil. "It's just accelerating nature," said Harries.

The process begins when a body is placed in a sealed vessel that contains the optimum environment for soil-forming microbes to grow. These then gently break down the body during a period of 30 to 45 days, eventually producing a nutrient-rich soil that can be scattered by the family or used in conservation projects.

"There is something very poetic about being brought back to nature," said Harries.

healthy forest
A stock image of a healthy forest. The soil produced by human composting can be used in conservation projects. valio84sl/Getty

"Any time you're talking about death, it can be tough for people," said Spade. However, "There hasn't been a ton of opposition [to human composting]."

Natural burial, where the body is placed directly in the ground without embalming, is common practice all over the world. "The idea is that the person will return to the earth," she said, and soil transformation just speeds up this process.

There has, however, been some resistance to this practice, particularly from the Catholic Church. "A process whereby human remains are composted and scattered... fails to sufficiently respect the dignity due to the deceased," the New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement.

Harries said: "The reaction from most people has been pretty positive. We're not mandating this. We're not going to push people down a path they don't want."

Sproutlings
A stock image of plants sprouting from healthy soil. Human composting returns nutrients to the earth. amenic181/Getty

Discussions about human composting are underway in both New York and Massachusetts, and similar bills have been introduced in Illinois and Minnesota.

"I think this will become legal across the country quite quickly," Harries said. Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and now California have legalized this alternative burial method, and many other states are set to follow. You can see its progress here with Earth Funeral's tracker.