A new way of “returning to the earth” has emerged in recent years. Its arrival raises questions, expands possibilities, and offers hope for a more sustainable, life-giving death. It’s known as Terramation, or human composting, and it’s bound to change how many people think about where they go when they die.
Terramation is a relatively new concept. Most U.S. states don’t allow it, and the ones that do have their own laws around the process. Even in states where human composting is legal, the service might not be available yet. Below, we look at how human composting works, how it benefits families and the environment, and whether it’s legal in California.
What is Human Composting?
Human composting is the process of transforming human remains into fertile soil. Part of the Green Burial movement, Terramation is an eco-friendly option that’s growing in popularity. And it’s more than just an alternative burial method – it’s a new disposition option altogether. Like any other composting process, human composting is simply the breaking down of organic matter into compost, or soil that nourishes the earth.
Environmental Benefits of Human Composting
One of the most compelling benefits of human composting is how it can benefit the environment. Many people refer to Terramation as the best way to achieve a “sustainable afterlife.” This makes it an appealing option for families who want to give back to the earth – even in death.
Terramation has many environmental benefits:
- The soil produced by human composting gives plants beneficial nutrients and helps them grow
- The embalming process can be toxic for the environment and funeral service workers
- Burial plots in cemeteries take up increasing amounts of land
- Cremation releases carbon dioxide and chemicals into the atmosphere, while human composting does not pollute directly pollute.
The Phases of Human Composting
Human composting occurs in several phases. Understanding the phases can empower families and help them feel optimistic about choosing this newer burial method. Unlike traditional burial methods, the phases of Terramation are entirely natural, adding to their eco-friendly appeal. Human composting involves four phases:
The “laying in” process is a chance to celebrate life and say goodbye. This step can be done virtually or in person. Family members are allowed to adorn their loved ones with organic items like letters or flowers that display love and honor their memory. Then, the body is placed in a vessel with organic materials like sawdust, straw, and alfalfa.
During the Terramation process, the body is gently transformed into soil in only 30 days. As oxygen flows through the vessel, the microbes in the body are stimulated and activated. Then, the activated microbes transform the body into organic matter.
At around four weeks, the body is transformed into soil. At this stage, the funeral home will screen for any inorganic materials. Inorganics like screws, stents, hip implants, etc. are removed during this stage and recycled.
Lastly, the soil is delivered to the family or donated to land in need of revitalization. The exact amount of soil will depend on the person’s weight and size. For example, say a person weighs 200 lbs. An added 600 lbs. of organics in the vessel comes to 800 lbs. total.
This soil is returned to the family, who may disperse it into flower gardens, scatter it over favorite spots, or use it to plant a tree. Many families find this step to be especially healing and rewarding, and a beautiful tribute to their loved one.
Choosing a Green Funeral Home
Death care is a matter that requires empathy, compassion, and exceptional professionalism. Green funeral homes work with grieving families to explore sustainable, all-natural options for laying loved ones to rest with dignity and care.
Here’s a look at the benefits Clarity Funerals & Cremation provides relating to sustainable funeral practices:
- There’s an emphasis on legacy and environmental impact
- All-natural methods are used to offer a sustainable afterlife
- With human composition, you get to decide where your loved one’s remains will nourish and give back to the earth
- Typically, you will have multiple ceremony options and the opportunity to learn all about the Terramation process
If you and your family are curious about human composting, your local green funeral provider will be happy to walk you through your options. Terramation providers understand that you have many death care options, and they will work with you to determine the most loving, honoring burial method.
Is Human Composting Legal in California?
Yes. In October 2022, California was the 5th state to legalize human composting. Terramation is now a legal burial option in Vermont, New York, Oregon, California, and Washington State. In late 2022, New York became the 6th state to legalize human composting.
In California, the human composting process will be allowed to take place in-state starting in 2027. There is one exception. At Clarity Funerals & Cremation, we’ve partnered with Return Home to be able to offer human composting to California residents.
The Future of Human Composting
Most people don’t want to discuss death or funerals, but the topic of Terramation will no doubt inspire many conversations about the nature of the death care industry. While many will likely stick with traditional methods, others are embracing Terramation as a more sustainable, eco-friendly option that helps ease the financial burden of loss. Making human composting available in 2027 gives California’s Cemetary and Funeral Bureau time to create regulations. It also lets funeral homes and mortuaries make essential changes to their death care models. Terramation promises to open up new options for families interested in less expensive, more environmentally conscious alternatives. And for those who like the sound of a “return to nature,” Terramation might just be the future of the afterlife.