A bill to allow composting of human bodies as an alternative to burial or cremation received overwhelming approval in the state House on Tuesday.
The measure passed the House on a 37-2 vote and now goes to the Senate. It authorizes a practice called “natural organic reduction,” often referred to as “human composting.”
Chief sponsor Rep. Sean Lynn, a Dover Democrat, called the practice a “gentle, respectful, environmentally friendly death care option.”
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“Natural organic reduction is a sophisticated process that applies cutting-edge technology and engineering to accelerate the natural process of turning a body into soil,” he said.
Testing in other states that allow the practice found the resulting soil to be “high quality and regenerative,” Lynn added.
Human composting is currently legal in Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, New York and Nevada, and legislation has been introduced in more than a dozen other states, according to Recompose, a Seattle-based company that offers the service and advocates for its expanded use.
Lynn said the Delaware measures takes into account the precedent from other states, but it includes additional environmental and health safeguards. If the bill is enacted into law, specific regulations would be developed over the ensuing year, he said.
The organic reduction process involves putting a body into a large tank that also holds straw, wood chips or other natural materials for about 30 days. The human remains and organic materials would mix with warm air and be periodically turned until the body is reduced to a soil-like material that can then be given to the dead person’s family.
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Supporters of the bill have said human composting is a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation that uses less energy and doesn’t involve the use of formaldehyde or the release of carbon dioxide and mercury into the atmosphere.
Under the bill, remains could not be accepted for composting if they contain radioactive implants, or if the person died as the result of a radiological incident. Also off-limits would be the remains of those suspected of having certain infections, such as the Ebola virus or diseases that can affect both animals and humans and lead to incurable neurodegenerative disorders, such as mad cow disease.
Lynn said he expects human composting will become more popular amid greater emphasis on environmental sustainability and land-use issues regarding cemetery space.