Are There Alternatives to Burial and Cremation?

In 2019, Washington became the first U.S. state to allow the composting of human remains, as a greener alternative to conventional burial or cremation.
In 2019, Washington became the first U.S. state to allow the composting of human remains, as a greener alternative to conventional burial or cremation.

Environmentally speaking, cremations and conventional burials aren’t very green. Cremation releases carbon dioxide and particulates into the air. The process for normal burial involves replacing blood in the body with formaldehyde and other chemicals, both of which can pollute groundwater.

In 2019, Washington state approved another option: composting. Licensed facilities can conduct a “natural organic reduction,” a process that uses plant material like wood chips and straw to turn a body into about a cubic yard of fluffy soil within weeks. The process costs around $5,500 USD, and uses one-eighth of the energy involved in cremation.

More about burials:

  • Cemeteries across the country already offer "green" burials, where people are buried in biodegradable shrouds or caskets without being embalmed.

  • The Washington State Catholic Conference denounced human composting, suggesting that it is an undignified end for a human body.

  • In March 2019, actor Luke Perry was buried in Tennessee wearing a “mushroom burial suit,” a garment made of mushrooms and other microorganisms that accelerate decomposition, transfer nutrients to plants, and neutralize toxins.

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    • In 2019, Washington became the first U.S. state to allow the composting of human remains, as a greener alternative to conventional burial or cremation.
      In 2019, Washington became the first U.S. state to allow the composting of human remains, as a greener alternative to conventional burial or cremation.