California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation Sept. 18 that makes human composting legal in the state, rejecting arguments by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that the process fails to show proper respect for the dead.

During human composting, also called natural organic reduction, the body is placed in a container covered with wood chips, straw and alfalfa. Over 30 days, the body breaks down and is transformed into nutrient-rich soil, which can be used to nourish a tree or a garden.

Advocates of the process say it’s better for the environment than cremation, which relies on fossil fuels to burn the body and adds to air pollution. Nevertheless, lobbyists for the Catholic Church opposed the bill, arguing that it “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity,” reported Religion News Service.

In New York, where efforts are underway to legalize human composting, the New York State Catholic Conference criticized the process in a statement.

“While not everyone shares the same beliefs with regard to the reverent and respectful treatment of human remains, we believe there are a great many New Yorkers who would be uncomfortable at best with this proposed composting/fertilizing method, which is more appropriate for vegetable trimmings and eggshells than for human bodies,” the statement read.

In California, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Los Angeles County) issued a statement praising Newsom’s signature on the bill.

“I look forward to continuing my legacy to fight for clean air by using my reduced remains to plant a tree,” she said.

Some faith leaders who oppose the practice said they have no desire to curtail it for others.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Pacific Sun newspaper that under Islamic tradition, a body is wrapped in a white shroud and buried directly in the ground without a casket. He added that human composting involves “pulverizing” a body and thus would not be permitted under Islamic law but went on to say, “[Islamic scholars] also recognize that every deceased person has the right to be buried in accordance with their own wishes or faith traditions, as long as it does not harm the public.”

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