KLICKITAT, Wash. (KOIN) — Washington residents now have some options when it comes to eco-friendly afterlives.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation making Washington the first state to approve composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains.
Starting in 2020, licensed facilities can offer “natural organic reduction,” which turns a body, mixed with substances like wood chips and straw, into about 2 wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks.
Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread or use for gardening.
Located north of the Columbia Gorge off Highway 142 in Klickitat County, the cemetery doesn’t look like much of a cemetery.
But that’s the point.
Herland Forest focuses on caring for the environment now and in the years to come. A body is wrapped in a shroud and laid directly into a grave.
Nona White told KOIN 6 News her husband, Gary, decided before he died that he didn’t want a traditional burial.
“One of the things that was really important to him was he wanted to bring his body back to nature if he could,” White said.
Herland Forest seemed like the perfect fit. Gary was buried there in February.
“If you’re gonna have to have a death, you might as well leave something for the future, leave a legacy for the future like you’ve protected something and given back,” his wife said.
Bodies laid to rest at Herland aren’t embalmed or placed into coffins in order to minimize the environmental impact.
The site also doubles as a conservation forest since Herland has body internment rights which means the land can’t be developed. Part of the fee a person pays to buried there helps the company purchase more land to conserve and protect.
Walt Patrick, the president and trustee of Herland, says getting the proper permitting to get the non-profit cemetery up and running took the better part of a decade but burials finally started 2 years ago.
“We call the persons here guardians because their presence here ensures this land will not be developed,” he explained. “We jokingly say ‘if saving the forest is the last thing you want to do – we’ll help!'”
The future is green
Composting and green burials could become increasingly popular options as researchers estimate nearly 80% of people will be cremated by 2035.
A Washington-based company is leading the charge on natural organic reduction. Recompose says its process would save over one metric ton of CO2 per person compared to cremation.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.