California Healthline Senior Correspondent Bernard J. Wolfson appeared on KMOX, a St. Louis radio station, in mid-October to discuss a new California law that would allow “humane composting” as an alternative to burial and cremation.

Human composting, also known as “natural biodegradation,” can be attractive to those concerned about the health of the environment. Cremation leaves a large carbon footprint, when toxic chemicals used to embalm the body before burial can seep into the soil.

With the new law, California became the fifth state to allow natural biodegradation, in which the body is placed inside a metal or wooden container, surrounded by organic material such as wood chips, hay and alfalfa, then decomposed into soil within six weeks. Up to six months.

Composting costs can range from $3,000 to about $8,000. That compares to the average funeral cost of just under $7,000 for a cremation and just over $9,400 for a traditional burial with a casket and vault.

Companies that provide natural organic abatement see this as a significant new business opportunity in the $20 billion-a-year funeral industry.

California’s law takes effect in 2027, giving officials time to establish regulations that will govern human composting in the state.

Read Wolfson’s coverage of the new law here. A Spanish-language version is available here.

This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, the editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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