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There has never really been a wide variety of options available to help us say goodbye to our loved ones when it comes to funerals.
The most commonly available methods – burial, cremation and embalming – have never been particularly eco-friendly. But all that is looking to change as a new trend, known as ‘body composting’, is beginning to take the US by storm, claiming to offer a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional burial practices.
The process, referred to as ‘terramation’ by Washington funeral provider Return Home, involves allowing the bodies of the deceased to undergo a unique form of decomposition, which converts their bodies into soil.
Bodies undergoing terramation are kept in a warehouse-sized room with racks of metal containers referred to as 'vessels', which hold remains during the 60-day, sealed decomposition process.
The vessels are airtight and surrounded by a mix of alfalfa and sawdust, which sees heat naturally retained within the vessel, allowing for natural decomposition rather than the costly fuel expenditure involved in cremation.
During this time family members are invited to add flowers or compostable mementos to the straw and other natural ingredients used in the process, while upbeat music plays in the background. Loved ones are encouraged to spend as much time as they want with the bodies during this time and can pick songs celebrating the lives of those they have lost.
The amount of organic material added to the vessels to help in the composting process is about triple the body weight of the human remains inside, resulting in hundreds of pounds of compost being produced.
Once composted, the family of the deceased is free to take as much soil as they want to use in their own home, while the rest is transported to a protected nature reserve where it forms the basis of a special memorial garden, and is used as fertilizer to help nurture the local plant life.
"It's like these people are teaching us to die better," Return Home founder and chief Micah Truman, who has helped terramate more than 40 bodies since founding the company several months ago, told Euro News.
Cindy Armstrong’s 36-year-old son Andrew died from cancer and had asked for his remains to be composted, and although she was initially skeptical of the process, she soon warmed to the idea.
“Initially I was mortified,” she said.“But now that I’ve gone through the process, I’m all for it.”
“Andrew didn't really like the thought of cremation. So about a year before he passed, he really researched it. And he decided that that is what he wanted. He just wanted to give back to nature."
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677