Human composting legal in New York: Here’s what we know about the next steps

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — New York became the sixth state to legalize human composting, an alternative to burial or cremation, but procedural hurdles remain before it can be offered as an option at funeral homes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature on the legislation on the last day of 2022 allowed for public cemetery corporations to perform natural organic reduction — the process of breaking down human remains into compost — and set in motion the next steps to make the method a reality.

However, while human composting is now enshrined in state law, it will likely take some time before deceased New York residents can choose the service, said John Vincent Scalia, who owns and operates Scalia Funeral Home in Eltingville.

“This is a way off,” Scalia told the Advance/ “And then it has to be determined how the remains are going to be spread, where they’re going to be spread, what’s legal.”

The new legislation laid out parameters for natural organic reduction facilities and the treatment of remains, said a New York State Department of State (DOS) official. It also enabled public cemetery corporations to perform the process.

However, while those standards were included in the bill passed by Hochul, the Cemetery Board, which includes representatives from multiple state agencies, anticipates proposing its own regulations that will go through a public comment process before the rules are finalized.

The DOS and the state Department of Health were directed to evaluate how to ensure the process is offered to New Yorkers effectively and justly, the official said.

Hochul is also expected to submit a bill to enable others outside cemetery corporations to offer natural organic reduction, potentially expanding the available options of the service.

The process of natural organic reduction takes about four weeks and is considered to be an environmentally-friendly alternative to cremation, which emits greenhouse gases. The body is placed in a specialized chamber with alfalfa, wood chips, and other materials for 30 days while it rotates to speed up the decomposition process.

The end result is nutrient-dense soil amendment that can be used to plant trees or enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens.

There has been pushback, though, from some who deem the process inappropriate.

Dennis Poust, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, said turning remains into organic material does not meet the standard of end-of-life treatment, adding, “human bodies are not household waste; they are vessels of the soul.”

“In the Catholic Church, preference remains for the burial of the body, with cremation and burial of the ashes as an acceptable and increasingly popular alternative,” said Poust in the statement. “Just as Church teaching prohibits the scattering or dividing of cremated remains, it would not permit the spreading of composted human remains co-mingled with other organic matter to fertilize a garden.”

He said Catholic cemeteries and others offer green burial areas that do not involve embalming, traditional coffins or concrete vaults.

“Given this fact, the bishops regret that Gov. Hochul has signed this legislation,” said Poust.

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