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Human composting moves forward in New York State

Micah Truman, CEO of Return Home, a company that composts human remains into soil, opens a box of spun-cotton garments that are placed on the bodies of people who go through the two-month composting process with his company, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Auburn, Wash., south of Seattle. Earlier in September, Colorado became the second state after Washington to allow human body composting, and Oregon will allow the practice beginning next July. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

New York already became the sixth state to allow a process known as human composting — but that didn’t stop several Republicans from continuing their opposition this week.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation in December to legalize natural organic reduction, popularly known as human composting. Washington state became the first state to legalize human composting in 2019, followed by Colorado and Oregon in 2021, and Vermont and California in 2022.

The state Assembly earlier this week approved A.979, which makes some technical amendments to state law to clarify the 2022 laws relationship with other sections of state law. Chapter 817 of the laws of 2022 established the process for natural organic reduction and holds natural organic reduction facilities to the same standards as crematories under both the not for profit corporation law and the public health law. The chapter amendment includes the same standards to appropriate sections of the public health law which pertain to the handling of human remains. The chapter amendment was approved 87-56, with Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting against it.

“As acknowledged by my colleague there is considerable opposition to this bill last year, primarily from the Christian community, the Catholics and the Funeral Directors’ Association, which probably explains why there were 52 no votes last year,” Goodell said. “I voted no last year, and I will continue to vote this year against this bill.”

While the matter was decided last year, several Republicans continued their fight when considering the chapter amendments. Assemblyman John Lemondes, R-Auburn, questioned Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale and sponsor of both the original bill and the chapter amendment, about the composting process. Lemondes specifically questioned how the process is different from burial and cremation. Those who use natural organic reduction place the body of the deceased into a reusable vessel along with plant material such as wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The organic mix creates the perfect habitat for naturally occurring microbes to do their work, quickly and efficiently breaking down the body in about a month’s time. The end result is a heaping cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil amendment, the equivalent of about 36 bags of soil, that can be used to plant trees or enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens.

“It’s in between but it’s much more environmentally friendly,” Paulin said. “It doesn’t reduce carbons, it doesn’t pollute the earth and it provides a mechanism for dealing with the human remains that allows the family to preserve it in a way they feel comfortable. It’s certainly a may. It’s not a must. But it allows that option.”

The New York State Catholic Conference, a group that represents bishops in the state, has long opposed the bill in 2022, calling the burial method “inappropriate.” Lemondes echoed that opposition in his remarks on the technical amendments this week.

“As an orthodox Christian I cannot condone this method,” Lemondes said. “I oppose it on religious grounds and urge all my colleagues to do the same. Also, it’s unclear to me why the departure from the norm as to why we would implement this in New York state.”

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