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Terramation is a new, eco-friendly alternative to burial or cremation. It’s sometimes called human composting or body composting.

What does terramation mean?

Terramation is another word for human composting, or ‘natural organic reduction’. Quite simply, it means turning a human body into soil.

This is what happens naturally anyway. When we die, our bodies decompose and turn back into simple nutrients that can help plants grow.

That’s one reason why people often mark a woodland burial with a tree or plant. It symbolises a person’s body returning to the earth and helping to create new life.

Terramation isn’t the same as woodland burial, though. It uses a special process to speed up decomposition and transform a person’s body into safe, usable soil.

How does human composting work?

Terramation is a relatively new idea. Right now, only a handful of human composting companies exist – and each takes a slightly different approach to the terramation process.

We’ve used Recompose’s method as a guide here. Other companies may differ on small details, but the general process is largely the same.

1. The ‘laying in’

This is what Recompose calls a human composting burial. Instead of burying a body in the ground, they place it in a reusable steel pod, where it will naturally decompose. The body is surrounded by plant materials like wood chips and straw. These materials help speed up decomposition.

Family and friends are allowed to attend this part of the process. There’s usually a ceremony that feels a lot like a funeral or graveside service. People might say prayers, read poems and help prepare the body by placing the plant materials around it. A shroud covers the body during the ceremony.

2. The decomposition process

After the laying in, the body is left to decompose in its pod. No chemicals are used – the body is broken down by natural bacteria that live inside us. The pod is rotated occasionally and oxygen is pumped in to help the bacteria work faster.

3. Turning the body into human compost

Once the process is finished, the body will have transformed into soil. Each body creates about one cubic yard of soil.

The person’s family can choose to take the soil home or donate it to a conservation project. If they take it home, they can use it to grow a plant in their own garden or scatter it in a special place.

How long does it take to compost a human body?

Composting a body takes around 6 to 10 weeks in total.

The body stays in its steel pod for about 30 days. At this point, it has completely turned into soil. However, before the soil is safe to use, it has to dry out and cure. This takes between 2 and 6 weeks.

What happens to the bones in human composting?

The human composting process turns all of a person’s body into soil. However, bones and teeth have to be broken down separately before they can be added to the compost.

Why is human composting good?

One of the biggest benefits of human composting is that it’s good for the environment – at least compared to burial and cremation. Cremation burns through lots of natural gas. And burial can pollute the soil with embalming chemicals and bulky, non-biodegradable coffins.

The terramation process, meanwhile, uses no chemicals, requires fewer natural resources and leaves nothing behind but safe, fertile soil. Recompose – one of the best-known human composting companies – claims its process saves between 0.84 and 1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide with every funeral.

Not everybody is a fan of terramation, though. Some people simply don’t like the idea and would rather stick to a traditional funeral. Others disagree with it on religious grounds. Some Catholic faith leaders, for instance, have argued that human composting goes against their beliefs.

Is human composting legal in the UK?

Composting a human body is not currently legal in the UK.

Why is human composting illegal in the UK?

There are strict rules about how bodies are put to rest. Since the terramation process is quite new, it hasn’t yet been reviewed or signed off by the UK Government.

If you live in the UK and you’re interested in terramation, you might want to consider a woodland burial instead. This is another kind of eco-friendly funeral that has similar goals to terramation and is perfectly legal.

You can learn more about woodland burials in our guide.

Where is terramation legal?

Terramation was invented in the United States – and this remains the only country where composting human remains has received some level of legal backing.

Where is human composting legal in the States?

Currently, there are 6 US states that allow human composting or have agreed to allow it in future. These are:

  • Washington (from 2019)
  • Colorado (from 2021)
  • Oregon (from 2021)
  • Vermont (from 2023)
  • New York (from 2023)
  • California (from 2027)

If you want more details about which US states allow or will allow human composting, the Earth Funeral tracker has all the info you need.

How much does terramation cost?

We can’t say for sure how much terramation will cost in the UK, because it’s not yet allowed here.

However, we can get a rough idea by looking at the cost of human composting in the US. There are currently 4 human composting companies in operation, which charge between $3000 and $7000 for a terramation package.

The cost of terramation vs cremation and burial

Composting your body might sound expensive, but it actually costs about the same as a traditional funeral. In the States, the average cost of a cremation with a service is $6970 – while a burial costs around $9420 (Choice Mutual).

However, you should bear in mind that the terramation costs we’ve listed are just for a basic package. They might not include things like transport, flowers and the funeral service itself.

More alternatives to a traditional burial or cremation

 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.

 

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