by April Corbin Girnus, Nevada Current
Assembly Bill 289, sponsored by Assemblyman Max Carter, authorizes the use of “natural organic reduction” — also known as human composting — for the disposition of human remains. It does this by expanding the state’s definition of cremation to include “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”
The bill advanced out of the Assembly Committee on Health and Human Services on Friday and could be up for a floor vote as soon as Monday.
If the bill becomes law, the Nevada Funeral and Cemetery Services Board would regulate and oversee any businesses that emerge to offer the service within the state.
Washington first legalized human composting in 2019. Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York have all followed suit. Nevada is one of at least half a dozen states where legislation has been introduced to legalize the practice going forward.
Carter told the committee he was inspired to sponsor the bill by his involvement in the trauma and grief world. The assemblyman, an electrician turned union contract negotiator, became a certified trauma recovery yoga instructor in 2019 and volunteers with the Trauma Intervention Program of Southern Nevada.
“This is a process that could possibly bring a little bit of light in somebody’s darkest hours,” said Carter, who is serving his first term. “We never know what it is that’s going to provide solace, a little bit of comfort. I believe this could be one of those things that possibly could.”
Many people are receptive to the idea of natural organic reduction after death, said Tom Harries, the CEO of Earth Funeral Group, who helped present the bill. The practice is considered more environmentally friendly than burial, which involves hazardous embalming chemicals, and cremation, which typically uses fossil fuels and produces carbon dioxide.
“Broadly speaking, this is a matter of consumer choice,” said Harries. “This is a perfect process for individuals who are trying to minimize their carbon footprint. This is a perfect process for individuals who enjoy spending time outdoors and in nature. It’s a natural process that returns you to nature. And there are also a lot of people who simply do not resonate with burial or cremation.”
According to the Cremation Association of America, Nevada has the highest cremation percentage in the country, with 81.6% of human remains cremated. Nationally, the cremation rate was 57.5% in 2021.
AB 289 is written broadly to allow for any businesses to emerge, but Harries described for the Assembly committee the steps involved with his company, Earth Funeral. Their “soil transformation facilities” have stacks of “vessels” that contain the body and monitor and maintain the perfect conditions for microbes that decompose the body. The process involves no chemicals or insects, just science for “optimizing and accelerating” nature, said Harries.
Remains typically stay in the vessel between 30 and 45 days, after which the result is a cubic yard of nutrient rich soil. (As for materials that are not biodegradable, such as metal implants, funerary composters handle them the same way as crematoriums.)
The family can then decide how much of that soil they want and dispose or use it in whatever way they see fit. Harries said some families decide to scatter their loved one’s soil in beautiful or meaningful places. Others use it for planting memorials.
Whatever soil isn’t collected — “a cubic yard is a lot for most people,” Harries explained — is used by the company for conservation or restoration projects.
In Washington, Earth Funeral owns private land where it uses the uncollected soil to plant trees.
Harries said that since the first funerary composting business opened in the Evergreen State in 2020, 0.5% of human remains have been disposed of using the option. He and other industry insiders expect use to rise as more people become familiar with the option.
According to Harries, a 2020 report by the National Funeral Directors Association found that 4.1% of people would be interested.
“I imagine it has gone up since then,” he added. “We believe if people knew, they’d pick it as an option.”