What are Some Human Composting and Other Legal Alternative Burial Options?
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What are Some Human Composting and Other Legal Alternative Burial Options?

How do I state my burial options in my Will? What are some options for burial methods? This article dives into various traditional and legal alternative burial options that you can place in your Will. Keep reading to learn more!

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Every industry goes through trends and the funerary industry is no different. Believe it or not, one of the biggest trends in the funeral industry is eco-conscious burial options. As we all know, the usual method of burial involves embalming the body and placing it in a casket, which is then buried in a cemetery. Some people prefer cremation, which allows the person’s remains to be placed in an urn or scattered in a special place. However, new burial options are quickly gaining popularity. One such option is human composting, which involves turning the deceased person into nutrient-rich soil. 

Let’s explore human composting and other legal alternative burial options in more detail.

Human Composting

Human composting, also known as natural organic reduction, is the process of turning the human body into nutrient-rich soil. How does this work? According to a Seattle-based specialist in alternative burials, the body is placed “into a stainless steel vessel along with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Microbes that naturally occur on the plant material and on and in our bodies power the transformation into soil.”  Over several weeks, the body is broken down into soil. The soil may be given to the person’s loved ones or it could be donated to a natural environment, like a park or conservation land.

Why do people choose human composting? Embalming fluids contain carcinogens that are dangerous to the health of embalmers. These chemicals seep into the ground during burial, which is not environmentally healthy. Some people prefer human composting because it requires less energy and produces less greenhouse gas emissions than cremation. 

Where is Human Composting Legal?

Human composting is legal in six states, including Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York, Oregon, and California. Each state has its own legal requirements for implementing human composting and it must meet the designated safety standards. That means you can’t just ask your family to throw your body in the woods to decompose naturally.

Other Legal Alternative Burial Options

In addition to human composting, there are several other legal alternative burial options. 

Green Burial

Green burial involves burying the body in a biodegradable casket or shroud without embalming the body. The body will therefore naturally decompose and become part of the soil. Green burial is legal in all 50 states.

Water Cremation

Water cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, is a process that uses water and chemicals to break down the body. This process produces a liquid that can be safely disposed of and a powdery substance that can be returned to the family. Water cremation is legal in 15 states as of 2023. Water cremation uses about one-tenth of the carbon footprint of traditional cremation. It also creates almost no emissions.

Tree Pod Burial 

Tree pod burial was invented in 2016 by two Italian designers. They designed an eco-friendly pod which stores a body, which is then interred in the ground directly above a new tree. As the body decays naturally, it releases nutrients and microbes that help the tree grow. Each state has its own laws covering tree pods or green burials. For example, in Florida, you may have an organic burial on private property and a funeral director is not required to make the burial legal. In California, green burials are permitted in specially permitted cemeteries. People who live in rural areas can also apply for a permit to allow for a home burial. 

Burial at Sea

For those sea loving pirates out there, burial at sea is generally legal in the United States. It’s regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency rather than by individual states. The EPA issues a general permit that authorizes the burial of human remains at sea. There are no fees for sea burials and anyone with a boat can do it if they comply with the regulations, which include making sure the body is dropped at least three nautical miles from land and in ocean waters at least 600 feet deep.

Space Burial

If you’re a fan of science fiction, you might think it’s cool to have your remains shot into space. This is actually legal. It is fitting that the first space burial was for Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, whose cremated remains were transported to space on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1992. Space burial is expensive and requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. The expense is due to the need to actually hire a company specializing in memorial spaceflight. Other famous people who have been shot into space include actor James Doohan (who played Scotty on Star Trek), Timothy Leary (author and psychedelic drug researcher), and Nichelle Nichols (actress who played Uhura in Star Trek, who will be launched to space on a Vulcan Centaur rocket). 

Science Donation

If you want to donate your body to science, it is normally a cost-free option. Many people opt to donate their bodies to a research center associated with a major hospital, like UCLA. Generally, bodies donated to science will be used to help train future doctors. Research centers have their own requirements, such as the body being free of infectious diseases. You can also leave your body to a private research company such as Science Care.


Whether you are interested in alternative burial options or will stick to traditional methods, the most important thing to do is inform your loved ones of your wishes. Many funeral homes can even help you plan your funeral ahead of time. FastWill suggests that when you write your will and make an estate plan, you include a letter outlining your burial preferences and give it to a trusted family member, friend, or executor for safekeeping.

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