There are traditionally two options for what to do with a body after death: burial or cremation.

In California, a third choice will soon present itself for those who shuffle off this mortal coil. That choice is human composting.

Assembly Bill 351, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, will allow residents to choose human composting, or natural organic reduction (NOR), after death starting in 2027.

The process of composting a cadaver, already legalized in Washington, Colorado and Oregon, involves placing the body in a reusable container, surrounding it with wood chips and aerating it to let microbes and bacteria grow. After about a month, the remains will decompose and be fully transformed into soil. Companies such as Recompose in Washington offer the service at a natural organic reduction facility.

During the early depths of the coronavirus pandemic, when funeral homes were inundated, Los Angeles County suspended regulations on cremation emissions. The author of the bill, Democratic Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, says the threat of climate change motivated the new law.

“AB 351 will provide an additional option for California residents that is more environmentally-friendly and gives them another choice for burial,” said Garcia in a statement. “With climate change and sea-level rise as very real threats to our environment, this is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere.”

Garcia added that she herself may choose the method when she passes away. “I look forward to continuing my legacy to fight for clean air by using my reduced remains to plant a tree,” she wrote.

The idea of composting human remains has raised some ethical questions. Colorado’s version of the law dictates that the soil of multiple people cannot be combined without consent, the soil cannot be sold and it cannot be used to grow food for human consumption. The California bill bans the combining of multiple peoples’ remains, unless they are family, but unlike Colorado, California is not explicitly banning the sale of the soil or its use growing food for human consumption.

The process has met opposition in California from the Catholic Church, which say the process “reduces the human body to simply a disposable commodity.”

“NOR uses essentially the same process as a home gardening composting system,” the executive director of the California Catholic Conference, Kathleen Domingo, said in a statement shared with SFGate. She added that the process was developed for livestock, not humans.

“These methods of disposal were used to lessen the possibility of disease being transmitted by the dead carcass,” she said. “Using these same methods for the ‘transformation’ of human remains can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological distancing from the deceased.”

The church also said that the process, which may lead to remains being dispersed in public locations “risks people treading over human remains without their knowledge while repeated dispersions in the same area are tantamount to a mass grave.”

The executive director of the archdiocese of San Francisco, Peter Marlow, told SFGate that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone opposes the law, and stands by the position of the California Catholic Conference.

Newsom signed the bill without comment.

The above comes from a Sept. 19 story in SFGate.