Charlton Heston’s character in the iconic 1973 movie “Soylent Green” famously didn’t take well to the news that the ubiquitous green food reflected in the film’s title was composed of human beings.
Now, Washington is poised to be the first American state to test public reaction to turning human beings into compost that could provide nutrients for various food products.
With bipartisan majorities, the state Senate and House of Representatives on Friday approve bill 5001, titled “concerning human remains,” the Seattle Times reported.
The law would take effect May 1 if it is signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Wes McMahan, a retired cardiovascular intensive-care nurse, testified in favor of the bill, saying he is “very much in favor of the composting of human bodies.”
“When I’m done with this body that served me very well for the past 64 years, do I want to poison it with formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals? No,” McMahan said, according to the Times. “Burned? Not my first choice. But what about all the bacteria I’ve worked with so long in this body — do I want to give them a chance to do what they do naturally? I believe in doing things as naturally as possible.”
The Times said Katrina Spade of Seattle, long has had a vision for an urban, soil-based, ecologically friendly death-care option.
The founder and CEO of Recompose, she wants her company to be the first “natural organic reduction” funeral home in the U.S.
“Frankly, I’m a little overwhelmed,” she said. “It’s real now.”
She said she’s worked with researchers who have demonstrated that carefully and properly composted human remains are safe enough to use in a household garden.
The Times wondered about the “ick” factor in human composting.
State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who first proposed the bill in the Senate, said composting is “just what used to happen before the arrival of $5,000 caskets covered with ecologically unfriendly varnishes and all the rest.”
“That’s the funny thing about the Legislature,” Pedersen said with a laugh. “It’s just a slice of the general public. So a few people were simply icked out by death and didn’t want to think about it, but the easiest way to get them through it was to say: ‘Hey, if you don’t want to think about this again, let’s just get the bill passed!'”
McMahan said he’s devoting some of his retirement time to growing a “food forest” on his property “so my grandchildren will know where food comes from.”
Someday, the Times reported, he hopes his composted remains will nourish a tree with a swing for future generations.
“Hopefully, that’ll be known as Granddad’s Tree!”
In March 2015, the Guardian of London published a column on human composting featuring Spade.
Grist writer Katie Herzog argued the methods of burial and cremation are not environmentally friendly or cheap.
And the ashes remaining from cremation cannot “nourish life.”
“Cremated remains are devoid of nutrients, and so your ashes are less likely to fertilize the ground they are scattered on than bird shit falling from the sky. You’re dust,” Herzog wrote.
Spade is “in her late 30s, short-haired and androgynous, and she lives with her girlfriend and two kids in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.”
Unlike a traditional graveyard, the Herzog said “you could go home with your loved ones in the form of soil.”
Spade said people could spread the remains of their loved ones in a garden or under a tree planted in their honor.
And even public parks could be fertilized with the soil, she said, so cities would be nourished by the people who lived in them.