Human Composting. Want The Dirt?


We had the pleasure of talking with Katey Houston to learn more about human composting. We found the conversation to be so informative that we asked her to write a blog that we could share with our readers. 

Katey Houston is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in the state of Washington. While she has worked for the past decade in traditional death care, she has always been a little bit of an "outside the box" thinker, pun intended, and a family advocate. Now living out her green death care dreams as Return Home's Services Manager, Katey wants to revolutionize how Americans think about end-of-life choices.

Human composting, sometimes called Natural Organic Reduction, is an age-old science optimized to take human remains and gently transform them into rich, life-giving soil.

At Return Home, we have coined the term Terramation. Terra meaning earth, and -mation meaning the creation of, which is exactly what we do; we create earth.

Many of you might be well versed in the traditional funeral options available to families who have suffered a loss. Burial or cremation, sometimes with some accessory services added. Return Home disrupted the funeral industry when we opened our first of its kind, open to the public facility. We aim to empower families to make death care decisions that make our world a better place.

So what is terramation? Simply put, it is the transformation of human remains into soil. Though in reality, it is a lot more involved. At Return Home, our terramation process is 60 days in total, separated into two phases. 

Phase 1 is where the magic happens. The body is placed into one of our vessels with a beautiful bed of organic material made up of straw, alfalfa, and sawdust. This vessel then stays in our front house for 30 days as the body does exactly what it was designed to do; return to earth. The microbes that in life digested the food we eat will in turn use the nitrogen-rich organic material to turn the body into compost.

At the end of the first 30 days, the vessel is screened for non-organics like hip replacements, screws, and stents; these are removed and recycled. The bone that remains is broken down into small pieces and added back to the compost for phase 2.

We think of phase 2 as the resting stage; it can also be called the curing stage. These 30 days offer the compost time to mature, let off a little CO2, and cool before it is ready to be returned to the family.

Returned to the family? Absolutely. Because of the organic bed the body is placed on at the end of phase 2, around 400 to 500lbs of compost remains and can be returned to the family in amounts that work best for them. What they choose to retain is packaged beautifully in breathable burlap sacks adorned with hand-stamped leaf shaped name tags. 

For any compost that the family chooses not to take, Return Home has 8 acres of greenbelt land in need of revitalization that welcomes the scattering of the nutrient-rich, life-giving soil.

As well as offering this amazing new disposition method that gives back to the planet, Return Home is working endlessly to reconnect families with their grief journey. Far removed from the traditional practices of handing over your loved one to a funeral director, signing some papers, and then receiving back an urn of their ashes, Return Home involves the family in every part of the process that they feel may help them on their journey. We try to ask the questions families may have never considered. Would you like to wash your wife's hair one last time? Would you like to keep your dad at home so people can say goodbye? Would you like to bring your child to us? What things would you like to place with your mom on her terramation journey? Would you like to decorate your brother's vessel? 

What is important to you on this journey?

Each journey is unique to each individual family, and we are here simply to facilitate what they need to smooth out the bumps in the road a little. Nothing can make it better, we aim to make it easier.

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