Composting Human Remains - Washington Leads the Way!

This Tuesday, Governor Jay Inslee signed a law that will allow Washington residents to compost their remains, adding a third option to our choices of what we want to have happen with our remains after we die. This process, known as “recomposition” or “human composting”, has been tested here in Washington State and has been determined to be a safe and effective way to dispose of human remains.

There is definitely an “ick” factor here. But, when you get past that preliminary thought, it seems so great. For a long time, a majority of my clients have chosen cremation as their preferred disposition after death. I think this is preferred over a traditional burial for a few reasons: (1) it’s cheaper; and (2) it doesn’t take up space or spew fumes into the atmosphere, so it is more environmentally friendly. I’ve also had a lot of people say “I don’t like the idea of being burned or buried.” Not that you’d know, I suppose, but this third option of recomposition is actually quite lovely; it seems more peaceful and efficient. And certainly more environmentally friendly.

I’ve been following Recompose, the non-profit organization leading the charge on recomposition, for several months. You can find their website at It is a lovely website with an explanation of how all of this works, scentifically (they’re very smart!), and how it will work, emotionally, for the family members whose deceased love one chooses to go this route. They even have pictures of what their facility will look like when it is completed. It looks like a lovely indoor/outdoor garden/atrium space with lots of light and plants. The pods where the bodies are recomposing (decomposing, if you want to be grosser) are neat, honeycomb-looking shapes that are stacked. In these pods, bodies are placed with plant matter, which has the effect of composting a human body in 3-4 weeks. THREE TO FOUR WEEKS is all it takes! Then, the family members get part of the soil and can use it to plant or however they like. It’s not like cremated remains, which cannot be put just anywhere. In fact, there are very limited places where cremated remains can go. (Don’t even try it in Disneyland. I think I would have a lot more success sneaking in and planting soil in Disneyland than I would cremated remains.)

The law isn’t actually effective until May 1, 2020, so I’m advising my clients to include an option in their Disposition Authorization that directs their family to recompose their body if the decision needs to be made after the law is effective. After getting over the ick factor, people are loving it.

Though cost is not confirmed, yet, the recomposition process is expected to cost more than a cremation and less than a traditional burial. That’s a big gap in my mind, but it’s good to know the general area. I would expect it to be somewhere in the $5,000-$10,000 range. Like memorial homes and crematoriums, I’m sure Recompose and others that get into this business will eventually provide incentives if you purchase before you die. Stay tuned!

I know I’ll be updating my Disposition Authorization in 2020! I’m proud of Recompose and Washington State for being the trailblazers in this fascinating area of the law. If you have questions, let us know!

Published 05/23/2019.