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New York State Legislature May Soon Vote On Legalizing Human Composting As A Burial Option

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York could become one of the first states to give loved ones a controversial burial option.

Instead of burying a body above ground, the remains would be converted to soil, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Monday.

As the death toll climbed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, funeral director Amy Cunningham said families drove hours to find a grave.

"There were waits at the cemetery and high costs, and more and more families don't want to embalm with formaldehyde, have a fancy casket with all kinds of metal hardware and don't want to use all that fossil fuel," Cunningham said.

She said more have been recently asking for an option known as "natural organic reduction," or human composting to some.

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It's legal in Washington state, where the company Recompose puts the body in a vessel with straw, alfalfa and wood chips. With the right mix of carbon and nitrogen, within 30 days it turns to soil.

The founder got the idea from farmers who composted livestock for decades.

In the next two weeks, the New York State Legislature could vote on making it legal.

Cemeteries would oversee the process. The New York State Association of Cemeteries supports the bill.

The legislation was introduced by Sen. Leroy Comrie and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale.

"We're going to run out of land or we're going to be using land for purposes that maybe we don't have to," Paulin said, "and then that dirt can be used by the family. You can bring it home and use it as fertilizer."

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But the New York State Catholic Conference and others say it's disrespectful.

"I visited Auschwitz a couple times. Always the guards will tell you, people ask, what happened to the remains? Well, you know what happened? The farmers came from around and used it as a fertilizer," said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

"Judaism very much believes in conserving the environment and being concerned with the environment, but it's ultimately we're doing that for the sake and for the benefit of humanity," added Rabbi Mark Wildes of Manhattan Jewish Experience.

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John Heyer, owner of Scotto Funeral Home, said there's enough room to bury bodies for the next 200 years at least.

"Doing something like this like you would your food scraps is less than respectful and to be honest, personally, that tells us more about how we feel about life today," Heyer said.

But perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Proponents say this way of returning the body to soil is a special ritual they want the right to have.

Other than Washington state, the process just became legal in Colorado, but it will take about 90 days to take effect there.

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