ALBANY, N.Y.  -- Human remains in New York could be legally turned into compost as an alternative to burial or cremation under legislation introduced in the state legislature.

Only the state of Washington now allows such disposition of corpses. Its first human composting facility is scheduled to open in May in Seattle.

The New York proposal has drawn the outrage of the New York State Catholic Conference, the lobbying organization for the state’s bishops. It said in a statement Friday it strongly opposes the legislation because it is “essential the body of deceased persons be treated with reverence and respect.”

A prime sponsor of the legislation, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, said she was surprised by the bishops' reaction. She hopes to meet with them soon to explain the proposal.

"We will see if they still have opposition once they have a clearer understanding of what this is," Paulin told CNHI.

Paulin said she believes many New Yorkers who favor environmental sustainability will want to consider composting as an alternative to traditional burials or cremations. "This is cleaner and greener,” she said. “And it is in line with many religious practices.”

The Catholic bishops disagree the public will embrace the proposal.

"We understand that not everyone shares the Catholic Church's teachings with regard to the reverence and respect for human remains," said their statement. "But we do not think the public, or at least the portion of the public that visits their deceased loved ones in cemeteries, are prepared for this proposed composting/fertilizing method."

Recompose, the company behind the state of Washington’s initiative, describes the process as "natural organic reduction," with bodies turned to compost in about 30 days after being covered with wood chips and aerated while inside a hexagonal "recomposition vessel."

Advocates for composting say the method uses less energy than cremation and avoids the potential environmental impacts from burying embalmed corpses in wooden boxes.

The estimated cost of composting a corpse is about $5,500.

The New York proposal requires composting facilities to be inspected by the state Division of Cemeteries. Records would have to be maintained for each corpse transformed into compost.

Joe Mahoney is the CNHI statehouse reporter in Albany, New York. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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