This week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill to allow the composting of human remains within the state. It is the only state in the US—and possibly the only government in the world—to explicitly allow "natural organic reduction" of human remains.
The bill also legalizes alkaline hydrolysis, a base chemical process that also uses heat, pressure, and water to liquify remains. Bone is not liquified in the process, so it can be crushed and given to loved ones. Alkaline hydrolysis is legal in 19 other states, according to the New York Times.
The new law, which will take effect in May 2020, is a boon for Recompose, an organization that wants to offer composting as an alternative to green burials and cremation. Traditional burials usually require embalming chemicals and caskets that will remain in the ground for centuries if not millennia. Green burials, which forgo elaborate caskets and embalming chemicals, still require some amount of land, which can be expensive, especially in urban areas. Cremation, on the other hand, requires a significant amount of energy (mostly from fossil fuels) to complete, releasing greenhouse gases in the process. Although composting itself is not emissions-free, Recompose says it has conducted a Life Cycle Assessment to compare conventional burial, cremation, natural burial, and recomposition and it is still better than the other options.
Whilst we in South Africa, and many other countries, go for more natural burials (without embalming) or cremations in the first place there are some countries have leaned towards embalming with harmful chemicals etc. Like it or not this may become a more popular option in future.