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POLITICS

Back from the dead? Human composting bill moves forward. What to know.

Rhode Island would become the 8th state the legalize the practice

Wheeler Cowperthwaite
Providence Journal
  • Organic natural reduction means a body would quickly be turned into dirt
  • It would join cremation and burial as the other ways a body is dealt with in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE − In 2026, will you be able to choose organic natural reduction in Rhode Island, also known as human composting, for what happens to your body after you die?

After a first hearing on Feb. 14, a bill to allow the practice, which died last year, was passed out of the House Committee on Corporations with a single tweak: an extension of its start date to 2026.

, where un-embalmed bodies are buried by themselves, are already allowed in Rhode Island, as well as burials in caskets (with and without embalming) and cremation.

Is the bill back from the dead?

, the House Committee on Corporations moved the bill forward on a vote of 9 to 2. the committee during that hearing.

Representatives William O'Brien, D-North Providence, and Robert Phillips, D-Woonsocket, Cumberland, voted against the bill.

Recompose, a Seattle-based company, demonstrates the human composting process. Over 30 days, the body and plant material together form nutrient-dense soil.

The bill still needs to move to the full House, and the Senate companion bill, introduced by Sen. Tiara Mack, D-Providence, was held for further study by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in May.

Where else is organic natural reduction allowed?

Last year, , D-Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton, said she introduced the bill to start a conversation and this year reintroduced it with a few tweaks requested by the state Department of Health.

During the Feburary hearing in front of the House Committee on Corporations, McGaw said the positive response to her bill was "overwhelming" when she introduced it last year.

"I heard so much from people across the state," she said. "What I did was, I reworked the bill from last year."

Seven states have legalized the practice: Washington, Colorado, Oregon, New York, Vermont and . California has legalized it as well, but it will not be allowed to begin until 2027.

What is natural organic reduction?

Natural organic reduction is a nice way of saying a body is quickly decomposed, a process usually aided by high temperatures.

One of the handful of businesses to offer the process,  in Auburn, Washington, started a year ago. Its process takes about 30 days, leaving behind a cubic yard of rich soil and some bones that are ground into powder, just like with cremation, spokeswoman Haley Morris said in 2023.

A whole new industry?

One funeral director in Las Vegas, where it became legal this year, estimated a price tag of $8,000 to $10,000, compared to the average national cost of a viewing and burial, $7,848 and cremation, $6,970, 

How do religions view natural organic reduction?

The Catholic Church relaxed its prohibition against cremation in 1963 but also maintained it has an "" toward the practice, favoring burial, while , as .

"," where a body is left in an elevated location exposed to the elements – and scavengers – is a Buddhist practice and a , while cremation is generally a .

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Reach reporter Wheeler Cowperthwaite at wcowperthwaite@providencejournal.com or follow him on Twitter