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(CNN) —  

Washington has become the first state in the nation to pass a law allowing composting as an alternative to burial or cremation of human remains.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Tuesday legalizing human composting. The bill will go into effect in May next year.

Currently in Washington, bodies can either be cremated or buried. The process of recomposition provides a third option that speeds up the process of turning dead bodies into soil, a practice colloquially known as “human composting.” The bill describes the process as a “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, said it is an environmentally friendly way of disposing of human remains.

“It’s about time we apply some technology, allow some technology to be applied to this universal human experience … because we think that people should have the freedom to determine for themselves how they’d like their body to be disposed of,” he said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill that allows licensed facilities to offer "natural organic reduction," which turns a body into soil in a span of several weeks.
Ted S. Warren/AP
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill that allows licensed facilities to offer "natural organic reduction," which turns a body into soil in a span of several weeks.

Katrina Spade, CEO of the human composting company, Recompose, explained the process of turning a dead body into soil to CNN affiliate KIRO.

How human composting works

“(The) body is covered in natural materials, like straw or wood chips, and over the course of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil,” she said.

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While the body is being broken down, she said, families of the deceased can visit the facility and will ultimately receive the soil that remains. It’s up to the family to determine how they want to use that soil.

The process was the focus of a study at Washington State University in which six people donated their bodies for research, KIRO reported.

“We proved recomposition was indeed safe and effective for humans as well,” Spade said.

The average burial can cost between $8,000 and $25,000. Cremation can top $6,000. Spade told the affiliate she hopes to charge about $5,500 for human composting.

Human composting supporter Leslie Christian told the affiliate it’s an attractive option from an environmental perspective. She said a lot of people approve of the process, including her brother, who told her he wants his soil to be used to plant tomatoes.