PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – It’s been about nine months since Return Home began turning human bodies into soil. The company’s founder and CEO Micah Truman said his business’ first months have been even more meaningful and life-altering than he ever imagined.
“We didn’t know what an incredible thing it would be. But boy, it’s been amazing,” he said.
Return Home opened in June 2021 in Auburn after Washington state legalized natural organic reduction, or human composting, as an after-death option. With 74 vessels to place people in after they pass, it’s the largest facility of its kind in the state.
KOIN 6 News spoke to Truman before the business launched. At the time, he thought the process would appeal to “hippies” and farmers and ranchers. But in its first year, the diversity of his clients has blown him away.
So far, Return Home has provided its services to more than 40 people. They’ve been as young as 23 and as old as 98. They’ve come from places far beyond Washington, like Oregon, Colorado, California and Missouri. They’ve been gay and straight and all different ethnicities.
Truman’s business turns bodies back into soil, a process known in the industry as “terramation.” Bodies are placed in a vessel with organic materials such as alfalfa, straw and sawdust. Family members and loved ones can place anything inside that will decompose, including flowers, letters and other organic materials. Oxygen will flow through the vessel and within 30 days, the body is turned to soil
Truman said when the business launched, he didn’t expect many loved ones to return and want to spend time with the people they lost. But he soon realized that giving families 30 days to come back and visit the vessel has helped them through the grieving process.
“The mother of this young woman, I’m sure will come in most every day. And we had one man that came in and he had two cups of coffee, one for himself and one for his partner,” he said.
Truman believes natural organic reduction is allowing people to say goodbye in a way society hasn’t permitted before.
“I think one of the hardest things that we do is we lose our loved one and then the process kicks into gear, often cremation or burial, and it happens at great speed,” he said.
After 60 days in the vessel, the soil is removed, bones and teeth are ground down, and the soil sits for 30 days before it’s returned to the family.
Truman said he’s seen people do all sorts of things with the soil they receive. One family used it to plant trees. Another divided it into small bags and gave it to friends to use wherever they’d like. A third took it to an arboretum.
“We had one guy pull in last week for his mom and we loaded it in in his Subaru Forester and he put a bag in the front seat and put a seatbelt on it,” Truman said.
People can also choose to leave the soil at the facility and Return Home will use it at a greenbelt location.
Washington was the first state to legalize human composting in 2019. Since then, businesses in the state have been looked at as trail blazers in the industry. Other states, like Oregon and Colorado that legalized the practice more recently, are watching to see how natural organic reduction is carried out in Washington.
Truman said it’s not just other states; people from other countries have also reached out to him. Return Home has been featured in news publications in places like India, the Philippines and Eastern Europe.
He said his business has seen some success with marketing on social media, particularly among younger people. A video Return Home posted to Tik Tok last week has been viewed 16.5 million times.
Young people really care about the planet, Truman said, and want to do things to make it better. That’s why he thinks they’re taking an interest in natural organic reduction.
He said cremation, the most popular after-death option in Washington state, uses a lot of fuel and blows carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Truman said the Return Home requires 90% less energy input to transform a body than cremation does and that turning a body into soil is a way to restart the cycle of life.
Likewise, a casket burial takes up space in a cemetery and can require several different resources.
“The process we have ensures that the last thing we do on this planet is give back to it,” he said.
Within the next year, Return Home plans to redesign its front-of-house facility. Truman said the business’ earliest goal was to be functional, but now he wants it to be beautiful as well. He plans for each of the facility’s four sections to be modeled after a season, making it a more welcoming place for people to visit their loved ones.
Expansion could also be an option for Return Home. Truman said he has his eye on Oregon, now that the state has also legalized human composting. He hopes that within about a year, they’ll be able to expand to the neighboring state.
Currently, the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board said people hoping to enter the natural organic reduction business won’t be able to submit applications for licensure until July 1, 2022. An administrative rules advisory committee has been established and is now working to develop rules for the business practice.
For Truman, he hopes to see this as a growing after-death option for years to come.
“I think it’s really important that we, as a society, look and build companies that make the world a better place,” he said. “It’s really important that we build companies that, the bigger they get, the better off the world is for it.”