What is terramation?

What is Terramation?

By: Team Earth

Apr 12, 2022 | Green Funeral Practice

3 min read

'Terramation' is a word you’ll likely come across when researching green funeral options. It is another word for human composting—one of many new terms that have sprung from a growing movement to make funerals and death care more eco-friendly.

Sustainable funerals are increasing in popularity, with NFDA research finding that more than 60% of people are interested in exploring green options. They are also growing rapidly in terms of availability, with environmentally-friendly funeral choices now open to more Americans than ever before.

This growing movement has given rise to new terms like ‘terramation’, ‘aquamation’ and ‘recomposition’. This terminology can be confusing, especially given a lot of these words actually refer to much the same thing. It’s common across all industries for innovative processes to go by a number of names to begin with, but this can sometimes make researching different options difficult.

This article aims to bring some clarity to green funeral terminology. As part of this, it will answer some of the key questions about ‘terramation’, explaining what the process is, how it works and how much it costs.

Is terramation the same as human composting?

Yes. Human composting is known by a number of different names, one of which is terramation. While the processes of different human composting providers will look slightly different and often go by different names, the underlying idea is the same - a body is gently transformed into soil using the principles of nature.

Other terms for human composting

There are a number of terms used to refer to human composting. The first is the term which is used in legislation - ‘natural organic reduction’. There are then some terms which are just variations of these core terms, the most common of which are ‘body composting’ and ‘natural reduction’.

Finally there are a number of names which human composting providers have given their specific version of human composting, which have then developed into more general use (to varying extents). These include terramation and recomposition. At Earth, we call our proprietary natural organic reduction process soil transformation.

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An alternative green funeral option is alkaline hydrolysis. Like human composting, this process has a number of synonyms. These include ‘water cremation’, ‘biocremation’, ‘resomation’ and ‘flameless cremation’.

How does terramation work?

The terramation process optimizes the conditions for naturally occurring microbes and beneficial bacteria to break down the body over a 30 to 45 day period. The body is placed into a vessel which produces these conditions, which are a recreation of those found in the natural world. The end result is healthy soil which can be used for memorialization and conservation purposes. As a net carbon neutral process with an output that is actively positive to the environment, human composting appeals to those concerned about their impact on the planet. Many people find beauty in the terramation process, seeing it as a return home to nature.

How much does terramation cost?

The cost of terramation ranges from just under $5,000 to just over $7,000. Terramation cost is influenced by factors such as location and choice of provider. Cost will also vary based on what’s included in the package. It’s important to check what is and isn’t included before comparing prices, as is the case with any form of funeral services.

How does terramation compare to cremation?

Terramation is often considered an green alternative to cremation, but the two processes are very different—as well as the end result.

Both cremation and terramation expedite the breaking down of a body, but cremation uses fire, while terramation recreates the natural conditions of the earth. After a cremation, the body has turned to ash. With terramation, the end result is soil.

A single cremation releases about 535 lbs of CO2, equivalent to a 609-mile car drive. Terramation, on the other hand, is a carbon-neutral process.

What is the environmental benefit of terramation?

As an alternative to burial and cremation, terramation produces significantly less waste and pollution. It eliminates the need for all of the materials that go into a coffin, the chemicals used to embalm a body, and the land that’s taken up to bury a coffin. And instead of releasing CO2 in the burning of fossil fuels for cremation, terramation is typically powered by renewable energy and does not release pollutants. (Earth facilities are run entirely on renewable energy).

In addition to being a carbon-neutral process, terramation produces nutrient-rich soil that can benefit natural environments.

What happens to the soil after terramation?

A body that’s undergone terramation is transformed into about one cubic yard of soil. Families can choose how much of this soil they’d like returned.

It can then be used in gardens, to plant or tree, or to spread in a special outdoor place. The nutrients that once existed in the body are returned to a cycle of nurturing natural life, in a place that memorializes the life of their loved one.

At Earth, whatever soil isn’t claimed by the family is sent to our conservation site on the Olympic Peninsula, where soil is an important part of restoring and maintaining the local ecosystem by sequestering carbon and helping to prevent floods and landslides.

What happens to implants, bones and teeth during the terramation process?

Implants and any other inorganics are filtered out at the end of the process and recycled. Bones are also removed and reduced to a fine powder, which is then reintroduced to the soil. This is the same process that is performed after cremation, and although bones are biodegradable, the process is just very slow.

Where is terramation legal?

Terramation is legal in eight states. Washington was the first state to legalize the process back in 2019 and since then others have followed suit. The most recent states to pass legislation allowing terramation were Arizona, Nevada, California and New York, joining Oregon, Vermont and Colorado.

We keep a terramation tracker updated with legislative progress across the US. You can use this to find out whether terramation is available near you.

Return home to nature

At Earth, we call our human composting process soil transformation. While we do not use the term terramation, the underlying concept is the same. Our process gently transforms a body into healthy, nutrient-rich soil over the course of 30 to 45 days.

Earth human composting facility

Earth’s soil transformation takes place in state-of-the-art facilities which offer a calm and serene environment for the process. Our facilities are powered by renewable electric energy sources and the process is net carbon neutral.

Families choose how much soil they would like returned, which they can then use for memorialization purposes. The rest is sent to our conservation land for use on restoration projects. Healthy soil is paramount to a healthy ecosystem, filtering water, providing nutrients to plants and animals, and sequestering carbon. Soil donation therefore ensures both a beautiful resting place and a meaningful contribution to the planet.

Conservation land human composting

An environmentally-friendly option, human composting appeals to nature lovers and those who wish to preserve the planet for future generations. If you like the idea of a return home to the natural world, you can get an instant human composting quote.

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