House OKs McGaw bill enabling natural organic reduction as an alternative to burial, cremation
Legislation would make greener option available in R.I.

 

STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Michelle McGaw that would enable Rhode Islanders to choose natural organic reduction in their final wishes as an alternative to burial or cremation.

Natural organic reduction is the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil, performed in a disposition facility. Sometimes called “human composting,” it is an option that is increasingly being chosen by those who would prefer to lessen their impact on the environment when they have reached the end of their life. Eight states — Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, New York, Nevada and Arizona — have passed legislation in recent years enabling the practice.

“Not everyone is comfortable with the impact of burial, which occupies land, or cremation, which emits a significant amount carbon. Natural organic reduction is a greener alternative that may be preferable for those concerned about how their final wishes affect the planet,” said Representative McGaw (D-Dist. 71, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton). “When I first introduced natural organic reduction legislation last year, it was just to start the conversation, but I quickly found that there are many Rhode Islanders who want to be able to choose this option. While I understand people have different comfort levels when it comes to discussions about what happens with a deceased person’s remains, it is a fact of life that a choice will have to be made. And there are many Rhode Islanders who would like this choice to be available. For some people, there is comfort in the prospect of going to their final resting place as part of the earth, helping to support life in the future.”

 

Natural organic reduction is performed in specialized facilities equipped with vessels in which deceased bodies are placed along with organic matter that helps speed the natural decomposition process. The chambers keep the vessels warm, between 130 to 160 degrees, and the contents are “blended” regularly over the course of four to seven weeks. The result is about a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil.

Representative McGaw’s legislation (2024-H 7212A), enables disposition facilities, including those that also perform cremation, to also offer natural organic reduction if they choose, subject to licensing, inspections and health and safety regulations to be established by the Department of Health, which also regulates crematories.

The bill, which would take effect Jan. 30, 2026, would not affect burial or cremation as options Rhode Islanders can choose. It would simply provide a third option.

The process is designed to reduce the impact on the earth, compared to burial or cremation. Burial involves occupying land and uses resources involved in caskets, grave liners and gravestones. Cremation requires the burning of fossil fuel and results in average of 534 pounds of carbon in the atmosphere per cremation – the equivalent of driving a car 500 miles.

“For people who have respected the earth and tried to lighten their impact on it in life, it makes sense to also want to take the greenest, most environmentally beneficial route in death. This is an option that we should work to make available here in Rhode Island, for our people and for our planet,” said Representative McGaw.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence) has introduced companion legislation (2024-S 2877).

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