Until 2023, there have been two options for you in New York when you die: burial or cremation. But now, because of new legislation signed into law by Governor Hochul, there’s a third option for the deceased and their loved ones: having your dead body turned into dirt.

It’s called human composting, or the less-sinister sounding “Green Burial,” and is the latest eco-initiative in New York. As of January 1, NY is the sixth state to allow this particular disposal of remains. The process has also been legal in Sweden for longer than a decade. So what is human composting?

The process begins in special facilities above-ground. Bodies are placed in a closed container with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over the course of the next month, bodies will break down completely into compost. That compost is then heat cured for a few more weeks, and then the soil is given to the next of kin for growing plants in.

A hand putting soil on a small plant.

There is controversy around the law, saying it disrespects the dead. The New York State Catholic Conference opposed the new law, saying the process does not meet, “The standard of reverent treatment of earthly remains,” and that, “Human bodies are not household waste.” Despite the dissent, many ecological groups praise the new law for protecting the environment.

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Both the embalming and cremation processes put toxins into the environment. The Berkeley Planning Journal says more than 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde is buried along with the dead each year. Interment also involves pouring more than 1,000,000 tons of concrete into graves.

An empty grave before burial

The human composting process is comparable in cost to a traditional burial or cremation. With arguments to be made on both sides for human composting, would you consider it as an option for you or a loved one? Ashes to ashes, dust to dirt.

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