What is Terramation? Exploring the Revolutionary Approach to Human Composting

Written by: Max Lemper-Tabatsky



Time to read 5 min

Unlike traditional burial practices or cremation, which can have negative environmental impacts, terramation offers a greener and more natural alternative.

In our ever-evolving world, new ideas emerge that challenge our conventional way of thinking. Terramation is one such revolutionary approach that is making waves in the realm of deathcare. But what exactly is terramation? And why is it being hailed as a game-changer? In essence, terramation is a sustainable method of transforming human remains into nutrient-rich soil. Unlike traditional burial practices or cremation, which can have negative environmental impacts, terramation offers a greener and more natural alternative. By harnessing the power of microbial activity, this process accelerates the decomposition of the body and creates a nourishing compost that can be used to nourish plants and support new life. Not only does terramation offer an environmentally friendly option for final disposition, but it also holds the potential for personal and emotional benefits. The connection to nature and the cycle of life that terramation provides can bring solace and peace to grieving families. As we delve deeper into the world of terramation, we will explore its benefits, challenges, and its role in shaping the future of end-of-life practices. 

The history of human composting

Terramation, as a concept, is not entirely new. The idea of using human remains for composting dates back centuries, with various cultures practicing forms of natural burial. However, it is only in recent years that terramation has gained attention as a formalized process.

The modern terramation process can be traced back to the work of Dr. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University. In 2019, she conducted a groundbreaking study on the decomposition of human bodies using a combination of wood chips, straw, and other organic materials. Her research not only demonstrated the feasibility of terramation but also highlighted its potential environmental benefits.


How does terramation work?

Terramation is a multi-step process that involves the controlled decomposition of human remains to create nutrient-rich soil. The process begins with placing the body in a vessel filled with organic materials such as wood chips, straw, and sawdust. These materials provide the necessary carbon and nitrogen balance for microbial activity.

Over a period of several weeks, the vessel is maintained at specific temperature and humidity levels to promote decomposition. Microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, break down the organic matter, including the body, through a natural process known as aerobic decomposition. This process is similar to traditional composting but specifically tailored for human remains.

As the body decomposes, it releases nutrients into the surrounding organic material, creating a rich compost. Once the decomposition process is complete, the resulting soil can be used for various purposes, such as gardening or land restoration projects.

The environmental benefits of terramation

One of the key advantages of terramation is its minimal environmental impact compared to traditional burial and cremation methods. Traditional burial practices often involve embalming fluids, caskets made from non-biodegradable materials, and land use for cemeteries. Cremation, on the other hand, releases carbon emissions and consumes significant amounts of energy.


Terramation, on the other hand, is a greener alternative. The process itself is energy-efficient and produces negligible greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, terramation eliminates the need for embalming chemicals and reduces land use, as the resulting soil can be used to support plant growth. By choosing terramation, individuals can leave a positive environmental legacy and contribute to the restoration of ecosystems.


Legal and ethical considerations of terramation

As with any innovative approach, terramation raises legal and ethical questions. Currently, the practice is not widely regulated, which means that the legal framework for terramation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some areas may require specific permits or certifications for terramation facilities, while others have yet to address the practice at all.

Ethical considerations also come into play when discussing terramation. Some individuals may find the idea of composting human remains uncomfortable or disrespectful. However, proponents of terramation argue that it offers a natural and sustainable way to return to the earth, allowing the deceased to contribute to the circle of life.

Comparing terramation to traditional burial and cremation

To fully understand the impact of terramation, it is essential to compare it to traditional burial and cremation practices. Traditional burial involves embalming the body, placing it in a casket, and burying it in a cemetery. This process requires substantial land use, contributes to the depletion of natural resources, and can have long-lasting environmental effects.


Cremation, on the other hand, involves the high-temperature incineration of the body. While it eliminates the need for land use, cremation consumes significant amounts of energy and releases carbon emissions. The ashes left after cremation can be stored in an urn, scattered, or used for various memorial purposes.


Terramation offers a middle ground between burial and cremation, providing an environmentally friendly option. The process accelerates decomposition, returning the body to the earth in a way that nourishes the soil and supports new life.


The growing acceptance of terramation

While terramation is still a relatively new concept, it is gaining traction and acceptance in various communities. In 2019, Washington became the first state in the United States to legalize human composting, opening the door for terramation facilities to operate legally. Since then, other states have followed suit, recognizing the value of this eco-friendly alternative.

Furthermore, public opinion is shifting towards more sustainable end-of-life practices. People are becoming more conscious of their environmental impact and are seeking alternatives that align with their values. Terramation offers a way for individuals to have a meaningful, eco-conscious final disposition, making it an attractive option for those who prioritize sustainability.


Terramation facilities and services

As terramation gains popularity, more facilities and services are emerging to meet the growing demand. These facilities offer a range of options for individuals and families, including pre-planning services, personalized ceremonies, and eco-friendly urns or containers for the resulting compost.

Additionally, some terramation facilities collaborate with local gardens, parks, or conservation projects to utilize the composted soil. This allows the deceased to contribute to the restoration and preservation of natural habitats, creating a lasting impact on the environment.

Common misconceptions about terramation

Despite the numerous benefits and growing acceptance of terramation, there are still some misconceptions surrounding the practice. One common misconception is that terramation is the same as traditional burial in terms of land use. However, terramation minimizes land use by utilizing the resulting compost for ecological purposes.

Another misconception is that terramation is a disrespectful or undignified way to handle human remains. In reality, terramation offers a natural and sustainable return to the earth, allowing individuals to contribute to the cycle of life in a meaningful way.


Conclusion: The future of terramation

Terramation is undoubtedly a revolutionary approach to human composting that challenges traditional methods of burial and cremation. Its environmentally friendly nature, combined with the potential for personal and emotional benefits, makes it an attractive option for those seeking a more sustainable end-of-life practice.

As awareness and acceptance of terramation continue to grow, it is likely that more jurisdictions will adopt regulations to govern the practice. Terramation facilities and services will expand, offering individuals and families a greener and more meaningful way to say goodbye to their loved ones.

In the ever-evolving landscape of deathcare, terramation represents a significant step forward. By embracing this innovative approach, we can honor the Earth, nurture the cycle of life, and leave a positive environmental legacy for future generations. The time has come to explore the possibilities of terramation and shape the future of end-of-life practices.

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