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What is Human Composting?

What is Human Composting?

What is human composting

Perhaps you’ve heard of this new term, and you’re wondering, “What is human composting?” In its simplest form, human composting is the transformation of a human body into soil.Human composting is known as ‘terramation’, or ‘natural organic reduction’. In essence, terramation accomplishes exactly what nature has done since the beginning of time. However, terramation speeds up the process of human composting.Everything returns to the earth eventually. Even an embalmed body placed in a sealed casket and buried in a cement-lined hole will slowly dissolve into the earth. However, an embalmed body will take an extra hundred or so years and poison the ground in the process.Terramation is a form of green burial. Essentially, it speeds up our return to earth in the simplest and most ecologically beneficial way possible.

How The Human Composting Process Works

So what is human composting, and how exactly will the terramation process work? There are essentially 6 stages to the human composting process.

Stage 1 Of The Human Composting Process – LAYING IN

First, the body is placed in a vessel and surrounded by a bulking mixture of alfalfa and sawdust.

The vessel is approximately 8 feet long, 3 feet wide, 3 feet tall, and is entirely reusable.

At Return Home, we allow families to be a part of the laying in process.

Families are welcome to add organic materials with their loved ones. For instance, family and friends can add love letters, flowers, seeds, champaign, and anything else that can decompose.

Our facilities are in Auburn, WA, and families are welcome to visit their loved one’s vessel as they are going through the terramation process.

And since we receive bodies from all over the United States, families can send the materials they want to lay in with the body if they are not there in person.


This bulking mixture of alfalfa and sawdust is similar to kindling in a fire. For instance, it helps the body rapidly attain a 130-150° temperature and stay at that level for 3-10 days.

The body now quickly heats up, rising to 130-150° Fahrenheit. Once the body is above 130° for 72 hours, most pathogens and seeds are killed.

Consequently, over the next 30 days, the body transforms into soil.  Finally, only some bones and teeth remain.


After the body has become soil, we remove the inorganics.

With the body completely transformed into soil, we remove all inorganic matter.

If present, we remove titanium screws, artificial joints, and pacemakers.

At this point, the remaining contents are now ready for processing.


In this stage, we grind the bones and teeth into ¼ inch shards and reintroduce them into the mix.

This grinding process is very similar to the grinding that happens in cremation.  In cremation, all remaining bone is ground into a fine powder before delivery to the family.

Stage 5 – CURING

After processing, the compost cures for some time.

Curing time will vary from 1-3 months, depending on each terramation company’s internal regulations.

At Return Home, our curing process takes about 30 days.

Stage 6 Of The Human Composting – DELIVERY

Once the body has fully turned to soil, we transfer the body to breathable burlap bags.

The soil is alive and rich with nutrients, and the burlap ensures it remains vital.

Then, we pack up and deliver as much of the terramated earth to the family as desired.

Now, the terramation process is complete.

While times will vary, we can complete the terramation process in 2 months.

We never use any chemicals during the process. With human composting, we only use wood chips, sawdust, alfalfa, water, and time.

What Families Can Do With Human Compost

what is human compostingFamilies may use the compost however they see fit.

The soil is rich in life-giving nutrients and marvelously fertile, making it ideal for gardens and landscapes.

The terramation process results in 1-1.5 cubic yards of soil. It is enough soil to fill the bed of a medium-sized pickup truck.

As a result, terramation creates ample soil for loved ones to plant with.

With the soil, loved ones can plant a memorial flower bed or a grove of trees. There is enough soil to fertilize multiple gardens. In other words, each member of the family can take a piece of their loved one with them.

In this way, the body of the loved one who passed transforms into new life.

Washington State allows for terramated soil to be used in the same manner as cremated remains.

As a result, this gives the family incredible latitude as to where they ultimately choose to use it.

And, any unclaimed earth will be donated to park departments, land trusts, and the like. This soil will improve soil health in the region.

Choosing Human Composting

Terramation offers us a chance to save natural resources and nourish the land.

Therefore, it avoids the ecological harms of conventional burial – which leeches harmful chemicals into the ground.  And it doesn’t spew fossil fuels into the atmosphere like cremation.

Human composting actively promotes healthy ecologies. And it allows the life of a loved one passed to transform into something new.

We at Return Home think of this as paying the gift of life forward. Human composting is both the new and ancient way of caring for those who’ve passed.

Do you feel terramation is right for you and your loved ones?

You can plan ahead by pre-purchasing a terramation plan. Or contact us today for support with a loved one who has just passed.

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