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Delaware legislature votes to legalize human composting as death care alternative

Delaware Legislative Hall in Dover.
Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall in Dover.

A bill to allow human composting as an alternative to burial or cremation services receives its final approval in the Delaware General Assembly.

The legislation makes Delaware the latest of seven other states to legalize natural organic reduction, a process that accelerates the decomposition of human remains to soil.

State Sen. Laura Sturgeon (D-Brandywine Hundred), the bill's prime Senate sponsor, says the process provides an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional death care procedures.

"Traditional burial methods involve putting 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde, replete with toxins, into the ground annually. Traditional burial involves the use of 4 million forrest acres worth of casket wood and 1 million acres of land that is maintained by CO2-emitting lawnmowers and garden equipment," she said.

She adds cremating one body produces 535 pounds of CO2 and the resultant ashes do not decompose.

Chris DiPietro, a lobbyist on behalf of Earth Funeral, explained natural organic reduction produces about a cubic yard of soil, and families often choose to plant trees with the remains or place them in a conservation area.

He added being embalmed or being an organ donor does not interfere with the human composting process.

While the bill passed with overwhelming support in the House, there was back-and-forth debate in the Senate over the respectfulness of the process.

State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel) says while he understands composting the bodies of animals, he can’t get behind doing the same for a human.

“It just doesn’t comport with my upbringing, my religion and my belief that God designed us, and we deserve a bit more respect than being turned into tomato food," he said.

State Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover South) said he doesn't like the bill, but he respects allowing the choice.

Religious beliefs also came up as reasoning for those in favor of the bill, including for Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend (D-Newark).

“I view this as a chance for me to then give back to another form of life upon my transition. So whether it's respecting the choice as Sen. Buckson had said, or in fact respecting creation and respecting nature, I think this plays directly into that," he said.

State Sen. Stephanie Hansesn (D-Middletown) asked to be added to the bill as a co-sponsor during the debate and expressed disappointment with the nature the opposition's argument: "It's interesting to me how we have such a bias against soil and compost when that is the basis upon which our life depends.

"I'm not anti-soil, I'm just anti-becoming soil," said State Sen. Bryant Richardson (R-Seaford).

The bill ultimately passed in the Senate by a vote of 14 to 7 and now awaits Gov. John Carney’s signature for approval.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.