Recently, I logged onto a video call to plan my own funeral. 

A care advisor with Earth Funeral, the newest Washington company to enter the human composting game, walked me through how I’d sign up to give them my body after my eventual demise and how, after a roughly month-long process, I would be turned into soil. It would cost just under $5,500. 

Terramation, the scientific name for turning human bodies into human compost, is nothing new for Washingtonians. Lawmakers voted in 2019 to allow us to grind our lifeless bones into dust and turn ourselves into worm food as a greener alternative to traditional burial and cremation. Now, five years later, human composting is legal in seven states, and Washington has three companies vying to capitalize on your cadavers. 

An earth vessel for your earth vessel. Earth Funeral

Since death is often such a fickle thing, these companies rely on pre-planned commitments from the self-composting curious. It’s an option many Washingtonians are considering and that some are already committed to. 

Most of Earth Funeral’s clients are 55 years old or older, according to care advisor Sarah McWalter, 40. She believes younger people are starting to think about their own deaths earlier. 

“Not having kids is part of it,” McWalter thinks. Younger, child-free people don’t have to consider preferences besides their own. 

The other thing changing the trend is the younger generation’s climate consciousness, McWalter said. 

“Younger people are more educated around climate change,” she explained. Choosing composting as their end-of-life option is a way for these green-minded people to “lock in” and “do something really good for the planet before everything is said and done.” 

Dale Knudsen, 35, is the cofounder of the elopement company Wilderpines. He's looking into a green funeral option after a high school research project soured him on the prospect of more traditional interments.

“In the American funeral method we pump people full of chemicals, encase them in metal, and put them in a concrete tomb,” Knudsen said. “That always seemed very aggressive and unnecessarily harsh just so some people can see a gussied up body.”

Traditional funerals—where we plunk our dearly departed six feet under the ground—dose American soil with 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde each year. Not to mention, we bury “104,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, and 30 million board feet of hardwood.” Cremation, the other most popular option for dealing with the American dead, produces waste, too. Each one releases 534 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air.

Knudsen wanted different options. He came face to face with his own mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic when, on his pandemic walks through Lakeview Cemetery, he mulled over his own funeral. 

“I don’t want to be a corpse in the ground,” he said. Instead, he wants to be composted or naturally buried at the White Eagle Memorial Preserve. He's currently setting up tours of human composting facilities. Whatever he chooses, he wants to make his loved ones go on a scavenger hunt that kicks off at Lakeview rather than host a traditional funeral. 

Even though he’s young, Knudsen is okay planning his own death.

“I definitely think people need a healthier relationship with grief and death,” he said. “It’s what makes life worth living. The fact that we have a finite amount of time in the world is a beautiful thing. The fact that we spend a lot of time being anxious is a waste.”

To give himself a sense of control over a life that will one day end, Knudsen has a running Google Doc with ideas for his scavenger hunt funeral.

Brenton Clark, 38, who works in the state auditor’s office, has already pre-planned his end-of-life option with Recompose, the pioneering human composting company. 

Planning for a potential death at 38 “feels a little strange,” Clark said. 

“On one hand, it does feel like this is a financial transaction and getting things set up for the future,” he said. “Thinking about and really contemplating that I will be dead someday, that’s something—I don’t know—I haven’t sat with that part of it yet.”

Clark first deeply contemplated life's fragility when he suffered a serious injury after a car hit him on Rainier Avenue.

“I’m more aware of the possibilities of something happening,” Clark said. So, he wants to be prepared. 

Mostly, Clark, who is single and intentionally child-free, wants to make sure he has something in place to ease the process for his family, who will be responsible for taking care of arrangements in the advent of his death. 

Once he dies, Recompose will collect his body and handle everything from there. The same is true for pre-planning clients at Return Home and Earth Funeral, the other terramation companies. (At Earth Funeral, pre-planners can pay for additional travel insurance to have their bodies collected if they die away from home. That insurance option is attractive to young people, McWalter said.)

For Nancy Franke, 68, a retired administrative and booking agent, death feels closer. 

“[People my age] understand that this existence we have here is going to be coming to an end,” Franke said. “It’s a little bit easier to accept that.”

She’s had her pre-arrangements set up with Earth Funeral for a year-and-a-half now. The environmental aspect initially appealed to her.

“I have a grandson who was about three years old at the time,” Franke said. “I started thinking about his future. I have more days behind me than ahead of me, he has his whole life. What can I do right now to help him?”

Beyond that, Franke likes that she will be useful in death with her body turned into nutrient-rich soil. 

Put to good use, even in death. Earth Funeral

“The thought that my body that I no longer used, this little shell I was finished with, could actually be used in a positive way to enhance the soil, grow the trees—it’s a form of immortality,” Franke said. “It made me think that I would be part of the ecosystem forever.”

Her family doesn’t want her soil, so her body-turned-soil will be sent to Earth Funeral’s plot of conservation land in Quilcene, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. 

"You start thinking in a broader sense about what this really means and how do you want your soil to be placed for someone to be like, 'Aw, that’s just like her to be a big tree,'" she said. 

As for me, I am not ready to pay $5,500. I would rather not reckon with my mortality in a binding way just yet. My mom, on the other hand, has told me she intends to be composted. Apparently, in her will, which begins "if you read this, I am dead," she has written her preferences. She sent me a photo of a sticky note attached to a human composting company's logo where she's written, "My spirit will become the phoenix. Energy never dies. It transfers."

Alright, mom, I vow to turn you into a beautiful grove of lemon trees one day. Pinky swear.