This ‘Living’ Coffin Uses Mushrooms to Compost Dead Bodies

This ‘Living’ Coffin Uses Mushrooms to Compost Dead Bodies

Hendrikx with the ‘Living Cocoon’ coffins.

by Becky Ferreira

For tens of thousands of years, humans have developed funeral rites and burial practices that reflected the attitudes of their particular time and place. These traditions of honoring the dead continue to evolve into the 21st century, as people seek “green burials” that are more environmentally friendly than standard coffins. 

One of the newest examples comes from Loop, a Dutch biotech company that recently unveiled a biodegradable coffin made of fungus, microbes and plant roots. Called the “Living Cocoon,” the coffin is designed to hasten bodily decomposition while also enriching soil around the plot.

“Normally, what we do as humans is we take something out of nature, we kill it, and we use it,” said Bob Hendrikx, founder of Loop, in a call. “So I thought: what if we humans start moving from working with dead materials toward a world in which we work with living materials?”

“We would not only become less of a parasite, but we could also start exploring super-cool material properties, like living lights, walls that are self-healing, and that kind of stuff,” he added.

Hendrikx was inspired to develop the Living Cocoon while presenting a living home concept at last year’s Dutch Design Week. While houses are obviously for the living, Hendrikx got to thinking about adapting the concept into a coffin powered by mushroom mycelium, which is the filamentary vegetative part of the fungus.

“Mycelium is nature’s biggest recycler,” Hendrikx said. “It is continuously looking for dead organic matter to transform into key nutrients.”

Developed in collaboration with Delft University of Technology and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Living Cocoon contains a moss bed packed with mycelium, plant roots, and a lush ecosystem of microorganisms. It is already on the market in the Netherlands, and has been used for a burial at the Hague.

Initial tests of the coffin indicate that it degrades in soil over about 30 to 45 days, and the Loop team estimates that bodies within coffins should be composted after three years. Mushrooms can also remove contaminants from soil, so the researchers have a “bigger vision” to use the coffins to purify dirty environments.

“We have a dream of having super-new natural funeral-based concepts in which we go to different cities and search for the most dirty soil and start cleaning that up,” Hendrikx said.

“We already have this product launched on the market, but what we want to really know is how long does [decomposition] take exactly, what does the decomposition phase look like, and also—this is super-important—what kind of chemicals can it absorb and in what amounts,” he added.

The Living Cocoon is one of many emerging concepts that aim to reduce the environmental tolls of current mortuary norms. Right now, both caskets and cadavers are treated with chemicals that leach into soil over time, potentially contaminating groundwater.

Green burials are exactly not a new phenomenon, as Indigenous cultures around the world have practiced environmentally friendly mortuary practices for thousands of years. For instance, “sky burials” that expose bodies to high altitudes where they can be scavenged by birds and animals, are still practiced in the Himalayas today.

But more novel funeral technologies such as “water cremation,” in which bodies are broken down in water and potassium hydroxide, are attracting the interest of people who want to tread lightly on the planet, even after they no longer live on it.

To that point, the Loop team thinks that the Living Cocoon will help people access the right end-of-life experience for them.

“I think people are ready for this,” Hendrikx said.

Complete Article HERE!

I visited a ‘green cemetery’ in California,

and it made me question everything about American funerals

By

  • A small network of cemeteries across the country are looking to shake up American burial practices and make them eco-friendly by offering “green burials.”
  • Green burial rejects cremation, embalming, and concrete-lined graves to reduce the carbon footprint of death.
  • A national survey found that over half of respondents were interested in exploring green funeral options because of potential environmental and cost-saving benefits.

Cindy Barath is the steward of a 32-acre property in the hills of Mill Valley, California, and all the bodies that come with it.

She spends her days planning ceremonies, receiving the bereaved, and caring for the dead. She’s honest at dinner parties about her job, and when people are surprised to hear that she personally dresses the corpses, she tells them, “Well, they don’t dress themselves.”

I met Cindy Barath on a cool October morning. I was a graduate student hoping to write an article about rocketing property prices putting pressure on the cost of a grave. My tentative headline was: “The cost of living is rising. Is the cost of dying, too?”

I arrived at Fernwood Cemetery looking for a story about real estate. But I found something different, and in my opinion, more interesting: a small movement looking to shake up American burial practices and make them environmentally friendly.

In a traditional American burial, a body is embalmed, then placed in a coffin and laid to rest in a concrete-lined grave. The custom is resource intensive. Each year, it uses 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid, 20 million board feet of hardwood, and 1.6 million tons of concrete, according to the Green Burial Council.

The “green burial” movement looks to change that.

Barath offered me a tour of the property via her shiny black golf cart. We hop in and she hits the gas. We whip by eucalyptus trees, wood-chip trails, and the mounds of fresh graves.

Barath is not the funeral director I imagined. She has a warm, folksy demeanor, and wears her auburn hair in short curls that are closely cropped to her head. Her wardrobe reminds me of my high school home economics teacher — long, warm sweaters and a chunky gemstone necklace.

We pull up to a spot overlooking the hills, which are patched with light and shadow by the misty clouds overhead. It’s quiet, but if you listen closely, you can hear the distant chatter of recess from an elementary school a few miles away. “Sure beats the office,” said Barath with a chuckle, dismounting from the driver’s seat.

Green burials are generally defined by what they don’t do. They don’t cremate, which burns through gallons of fuel to turn the body to ash. They don’t embalm, which pumps formaldehyde into the body to preserve it. And they don’t line a grave with concrete, which slows decomposition.

But from there, the details vary. Customers can choose biodegradable containers that range from a pine box to a hand-sewn silk shroud. Some cemeteries offer flat stone markers, others record grave locations with a GPS tracking system. Fernwood even offers a mushroom suit, a shroud of fungal spores that aid in decomposition and detoxification.

Beyond Fernwood Cemetery, options abound for the late nature-lover. A Canadian design firm created an urn called “ROOTS,” made from coffee grounds and lime that will germinate a tree. A company called Better Place Forests is conserving hundreds of acres of land in California and Arizona where families can reserve a memorial tree to spread ashes. And an organization called Eternal Reefs can inturn your cremated ash into a concrete “reef ball” that restores ocean habitats.

A new name for an old practice

Although green burial is marketed as an eco-friendly choice, its customs existed long before the environmental movement. A simple burial without the frills of chemicals and concrete is ancient. Green burial is, essentially, a new word for an old practice.

Take Jewish burial traditions, for example.

“Jewish burial traditions and customs have been green for the last 3,000 years,” said Glenn Easton, executive Funeral Director at The Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park in Maryland. “In Israel, they don’t use caskets. They don’t embalm. They don’t use concrete liners. They use a shroud and put people in the ground.”

Easton says his Orthodox Jewish customers are especially green, since they prioritize letting a body decompose quickly. They even have a workaround called “butterdishing” for cemeteries that require concrete liners: they line the sides and top of the grave, and leave the bottom open to the earth.

Green burial isn’t too different from the way we bury the indigent, either. At potter’s fields across the country, governments bury those who are too poor to afford funeral services, or bodies that are unclaimed, in simple graves without coffins, concrete, or chemicals. The only difference: rather than a shroud or pine box, they are often buried in plastic body bags.

Unlike coffee-ground urns and “reefballs,” green burial is old technology. But while it doesn’t contribute much in terms of innovation, it does spark an important conversation. Green burial prompts us to ask why our rituals of death default to using formaldehyde and concrete.

In America, embalming can be traced back to the Civil War. The soldiers who died fighting on the battlefields of North Carolina needed to have their bodies transported back north to be buried. Preservation became a necessity.

Meanwhile, concrete liners can be traced to America’s obsession with the perfect lawn. Funeral directors say that they are useful for landscaping: they prevent the ground above a grave from sinking or collapsing. Many cemeteries require the concrete. It keeps things smooth for their industrial mowers.

The difference is apparent at Fernwood’s Green Cemetery. Rather than neat rows of gravestones and uniformly-trimmed fescue, the cemetery’s green burial sections are dotted with native grasses and shrubs. In parts, the landscape is steeply sloped. A lawnmower would have a tough time.

Changing times

The movement is still in its early days. There are at least 287 cemeteries in the US and Canada that offer green burial services, according to New Hampshire Funeral Resources. And at some of those cemeteries, like Wooster Cemetery in Connecticut, traditional burials vastly outnumber their green counterparts.

The cadre is small, but Ed Bixby, president of the Green Burial Council, which certifies green cemeteries, is hopeful. A national survey found that over half of respondents were interested in exploring green funeral options because of potential environmental and cost-saving benefits.

And Bixby says that end-of-life customs are more changeable than they seem.

Take cremation, for example. In 1975, only 6% of Americans chose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Traditional burial with embalming was standard.

Funeral directors considered cremation to be no more than “a flash in the pan,” said Bixby.

But it wasn’t. Cremation was a fraction of the price of traditional burial, and it was adopted widely.

Today, cremation is king. More than half of all Americans choose cremation, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. It surpassed traditional burial as the most popular end-of-life solution back in 2015.

Direct cremation, which forgoes a viewing or other ceremony, can cost as little as $750. But since green burial is less expensive than traditional burial, Bixby believes it could gain traction as the “official third option.”

Traditional burials, with a vault, cost a median of $9,135 in 2019, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. By forgoing embalming ($750), a cement vault ($1495), and opting for a simple shroud or pine box over a wood casket ($3,000), or metal burial casket ($2,500), those choosing green burial can save thousands.

Still, Glenn Easton emphasizes that at his cemetery, “green burials are not influenced or determined by financial decisions.” Instead, “they’re a philosophical preference.”

And Cindy Barath says that the simplicity of a green burial service, and emphasis its emphasis on nature, helps the bereaved. “I try to cut through all the red tape and make it easy and simple. Just help them make this transition. I know if they come in crying and come out laughing, something has taken place.”

Complete Article HERE!

The misunderstood funeral tech that’s illegal in 30 states

From mafia propaganda to moral outcry, what’s stopping us from embracing water cremation technology?

By Steph Panecasio

When you die, your body is going to decompose.

It starts from the moment you pass. Your organs begin to shut down. Hair stops growing, skin recedes. Some parts of the body take longer than others, but eventually, as with all things, it all starts to break down.

If you opt for a traditional burial, your remains will spend years nestled within a casket underground, progressing into a deeper state of decomposition. If you opt for a traditional flame-based cremation, you eliminate any further decomposition by burning it to a halt.

But there’s also another alternative — one designed to accelerate the decomposition process through the medium of water. It’s known as alkaline hydrolysis, or water cremation. One part spa, one part chemical blend, a few hours of a swirling soak, and your earthly remains are no longer.

“It’s basic chemistry,” explains Anas Ghadouani, leader of the research group Aquatic Ecology and Ecosystem Studies. “You have organic matter and you add a base to it and it just decomposes. You can write the equation to it. It’s very simple.”

Despite this, alkaline hydrolysis remains one of the most divisive and misunderstood practices in contemporary funeral technology.

The machine

Alkaline hydrolysis is a form of cremation that uses water and chemicals to break down the human body to its bare minimum. Salts, amino acids, peptides. Like flame-based cremation, it produces ash that can be taken home. Unlike flame-based cremation, it’s illegal for use on human bodies in almost 30 states in America.

The concept itself isn’t new. Amos Herbert Hobson of Middlesex, England, patented the first alkaline hydrolysis machine all the way back in 1888. He used it to dispose of animal carcasses.

In the century and a half since, the technology has evolved, and it has the potential to shake up the death industry. 

The process is straightforward. Bodies are placed in a machine containing a chemical mixture of water and alkali. The mixture is then heated and cycled. Over the course of hours, the body is accelerated through its natural decomposition process, resulting in a residual liquid made up of amino acids, peptides, salt, soap and bones — the last of which is broken down into white ash.

Joseph Wilson, now founder and CEO of leading alkaline hydrolysis manufacturer Bio-Response Solutions, helped design the first commercial-use human alkaline hydrolysis unit in 2005.

“I was stunned that there was a way to dispose of tissue without burning,” said Wilson. “You don’t have any external pumps or tanks or chemicals. It’s all there at the machine.”

There are undeniable benefits to this process. In 2011, a study from the University of Groningen compared conventional burial, cremation, alkaline hydrolysis and cryomation and found that alkaline hydrolysis had the lowest overall environmental footprint.

The low temperature also means pacemakers and joint replacements can remain inside the body. In flame-based cremation, these are extracted to prevent a reaction — pacemakers, especially, are incredibly volatile when subjected to extreme heat.

Yet despite the fact that flame-based cremation subjects the remains to intense fire, alkaline hydrolysis is seen as the more graphic option for potential funerals, when both are just as valid. Legal roadblocks and cultural concerns have plagued water cremation since its inception.

And there’s a simple reason for that: Alkaline hydrolysis has a reputation shaped by years of misrepresentation. Nobody wants to feel like they’re disrespecting their loved ones.

Media, morals and the mafia

Most people’s first experience of alkaline hydrolysis is through popular culture.

In the second episode of Breaking Bad, audiences sees drug dealer Jesse Pinkman dissolve a dead body in his apartment’s bathtub using hydrofluoric acid he’d sourced from his high school’s chemical stores. He returns the next day only to find the acid had eaten through the bathtub itself and floorboards beneath, before finally falling through to the floor below.

Despite the effective cinematics, Breaking Bad is far from realistic. Hydrofluoric acid, while highly corrosive, doesn’t have the capacity to completely liquefy remains overnight — it’s at the wrong end of the pH scale. It certainly doesn’t have the capacity to eat through a bath and the floor.

Even if it could, the science doesn’t check out — Mythbusters proved it.

Whether it’s a question of gulping down Soylent Green or shunting bodies into acid barrels, television and film haven’t been kind to the practice of alkaline hydrolysis.

Outside of television, urban legends have tarred alkaline hydrolysis with further negativity. In 2011, researchers had to debunk claims the Sicilian mafia disposed of human remains in a process called lupara bianca, or white shotgun. Just like in Breaking Bad, the mafia supposedly used acid — an entirely different, cruder chemical process.

Mafia urban legends and shows like Breaking Bad create a sense of violence surrounding water cremation that simply doesn’t hold up. Water cremation, at its core, is no more than the acceleration of a natural process.

The reality: As with almost all aspects of the death industry, there is a level of respect and dignity. You don’t see what happens in the retort of a flame-based cremator, but you won’t see what happens inside an alkaline hydrolysis machine either.

Waste not

What remains to be dealt with, however, is what comes out the other side. Ashes are one thing — you can pop them on the mantle in a decorative urn, sprinkle them at sea or even have them launched into space — but what about the residual liquid?

One of the biggest roadblocks to the acceptance of alkaline hydrolysis technology is the issue of wastewater. Because of its association with death, the liquid is perceived as too unsanitary to be processed normally. Say it goes through the same recycling plants that supply residential areas, the idea of drinking the essence of a dead body sounds abhorrent. It’s hard enough swallowing the idea of recycled sewage water. Remains? Inconceivable.

But technology already exists to tackle almost any kind of wastewater.

Sewage water is filtered for reuse in municipal treatment plants. Organic material is broken down in anaerobic digesters, which convert the material into methane or “biogas.” Specially designed ultrafiltration systems can even tackle aqueous nuclear waste.

“Any liquid waste that we have, we can deal with,” says Ghadouani.

Yet in Australia, residual liquid from water cremation isn’t permitted to be treated via the municipal water treatment facilities or digesters. More worryingly, there’s a disconnect here — and it’s one that, for the most part, is behind the closed doors of the funeral industry.

“One of the most common things the public doesn’t know,” says leading US thanatologist and death educator Cole Imperi, “is that when someone is embalmed, all the blood that comes out of your body, where does that go? It goes down the drain.”

In fact, almost all the human waste that comes from hospitals and funeral homes as a result of the embalming process is permitted to be processed through these official channels.

“So if you’re allowing byproducts from funeral homes to go into the municipal water system for treatment, why are you discriminating against one particular disposition method?” Imperi asks. “It’s an interesting kind of cognitive dissonance.”

Thanatologist Cole Imperi beside one of Bio-Response Solutions’ alkaline hydrolysis machines.

Nevertheless, in the few states that allow alkaline hydrolysis — for animals — practicing venues must provide their own wastewater filtration treatments and submit them for regular testing. It’s expensive and demanding. Venues are scarce.

Jonathan Hopkins, owner and operator of Resting Pets Cremations in New South Wales, Australia, is an alkaline hydrolysis advocate. He and his late wife opened their practice after the pain of a family pet’s death opened their eyes to the process as a cremation alternative. 

“My wife was always an animal lover and she just had a really bad experience with the [cremation] company that was serving this area,” he said. “So we approached the local council for a pet cremation system.” They landed on alkaline hydrolysis.

To ensure the wastewater passed council and environmental regulations, Hopkins created his own treatment system. He began by increasing the machine’s existing filtration capacity, with any overflow going into a separate tank. Here, microorganisms remove any remaining bacteria — much like a septic system.

“With our system, they can see what chemicals are going in, and they can see the effluent coming out. They can test it, they know where it’s going,” he said.

Reframing the narrative

Some will always struggle with the concept of alkaline hydrolysis. Certain cultures or religions might always register a stronger connection to conventional burial and cremation methods.

But our human instinct to process death isn’t incompatible with water cremation. We could use residual liquid from the hydrolysis process to help nurture the earth. A gardener, for example, could live on in the plants and flowers they once nurtured.

Conceptually, it’s not out of the question. “If the liquid waste stream were to be applied to soil as a fertilizer, there could be a role for this as a soil improver.” explains Michael Short, a senior research fellow of the Future Industries Institute at the University of South Australia.

On a larger scale, this could even benefit the wider agricultural industry.

“The wastewater stream [would be] a relatively high strength organic waste solution,” Short says. “Soils in some Australian regions are generally low in natural organic matter, so adding organics from such waste streams could help to improve overall soil quality and soil carbon stocks.”

It may sound strange on first pass, but why not? If it gives someone peace of mind that our loved ones will “live on,” the transmutation of alkaline hydrolysis liquid to fertilizer may just be the PR dream the technology has been waiting for.

Alkaline hydrolysis may not be accepted anytime soon. It may take years of building up a more positive association. Maybe even decades.

It all comes down to whether states and countries are willing to test the waters.

Complete Article HERE!

Death of the funeral

Trends in commemorating those who die are shifting away from tradition. And, as the population ages and times change, the City of Kamloops is looking at how to manage the dead


A statue of Jesus stands among the remains of loved ones in a mausoleum at the city’s Hillside Cemetery. Funerals with large gatherings are on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Jessica Wallace

Dead are the days of traditional casket burials for all.

These days, a dying man’s wish may be to grow into a tree, while another may choose to be buried in a certified eco-friendly cemetery.

Last spring, Washington became the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting.

Funerals — once a place for obligatory tears and dark clothing — are today often substituted with a “celebration of life,” complete with funny stories and laughter.

Trends in dying are shifting away from tradition. And, as the population ages and times are changing, the City of Kamloops is looking at how to manage the dead, with an update to its Cemetery Master Plan.

The plan focuses on the city’s primary cemetery, Hillside Cemetery on Notre Dame Drive.

City civic operations director Jen Fretz said the plan will address current trends as traditional casket burial declines in popularity.

More common these days is cremation, Fretz said, noting the plan will look at demand for increased mausoleum space at Hillside Cemetery. The current mausoleums, she said, are “fully subscribed.”

Schoening Funeral Service manager Sara Lawson lauded the city’s planning, telling KTW the industry is rapidly changing.

She said some people may be surprised to know that in British Columbia, 85 per cent of people are cremated after death, with 15 per cent buried in a casket.

In Kamloops, that number is slightly lower, at 80 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.

The overall trend, however, is a rise in cremation. Lawson believes that is happening for multiple reasons, primarily a new generation and loss of tradition.

“Newer generations aren’t attending church as much as grandma and grandpa,” Lawson said. “Back in the day, that’s what you did. You had a casket burial. You had service at the church.”

Another reason cremation is increasingly popular is due to urgency for gathering that comes with casket burial and desire for options. For example, if a family cannot unite in one place for some time until after a loved one’s death, cremation might make more sense. Perhaps everyone wants to meet in a place that was meaningful to the deceased.

“It happens more and more where there is a bit of a delay for the service,” Lawson said.

In addition to mausoleum space, the city will explore trends in green burials.

The Green Burial Council describes a green burial as a way of caring for the dead with “minimal environmental impact that aids in conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health and restoration and/or preservation of habitat.”

Green burial requires non-toxic and biodegradable materials.

Lawson said only one cemetery in B.C. is certified to meet green burial standards — Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, which opened in 2008.

According to its website, Royal Oak is the first urban green burial site in the country, where it “returns human remains to the earth in a simple state permitting decomposition to occur naturally and so contribute to new life in a forest setting.”

Green burial prepares the body without embalming.

The body is buried in a biodegradable shroud, simple container or casket made from natural fibre, wicker or sustainably harvested wood.

Lawson said the difference between regular cemeteries, such as Hillside, and a green cemetery is the grave liner. While most cemeteries have grave liners made of concrete, wood or fibreglass, green cemeteries use dirt as a way to return remains to the elements as quickly as possible.

Schoening does offer green options, but there is no green burial site in the B.C. Interior. Green burials are not yet a common request, Lawson said, but she expects it will become more in demand in the next five to 10 years.

The city will also explore the potential for a scattering garden, which is a place to scatter ashes. Lawson said scattering gardens may look like flower gardens, wherein ashes can be scattered for a fee.

Compared to scattering someone’s ashes in a backyard or elsewhere in nature, cemeteries are permanent — meaning loved ones won’t return to that special location one day to find a development in its place, a rose garden dead or a tree chopped down.

“Cemeteries stay the same,” Lawson said. “The record must remain forever.”

Updates to the Cemetery Master Plan are expected by the fall.

With need for expansion of the cemetery, rates may also be on the rise.

The city said its fees are between 20 to 25 per cent lower than similar-sized communities and the goal is to recover operating costs with revenue collected.

MODIFYING THE MEMORIAL

While funeral servcies undergo a transition, a Kamloops pastor has noticed memorials are also changing.

Rev. Steve Filyk, a minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, said newspaper obituaries increasingly state “no funeral by request.”

He suspects it is due to the taboo nature of death. As a culture, he said, people don’t want to acknowledge death, as it is finite.

“Perpetual youth is sort of what the focus of our culture is, right? In that way, I don’t know how well prepared we are to face it — to face the loss of loved ones or face our own death,” he said.

Filyk said he worries about the psychological impact of not marking someone’s death.

“I think to set apart and designate a time, not just for yourself but for everyone, where the world will stop for a few moments. It’s about that,” Filyk said.

“A moment of silence at Remembrance Day, where the world just stops to acknowledge that this person was special. They had warts and foibles, but they were special to a bunch of people and had an impact and that their loss is felt. I think it’s important to acknowledge that.”

Of memorials that do occur, Filyk said they rarely involve a casket and often involve photo slideshows in an increasingly media-driven, photo-centric society.

In addition, Filyk said he has noticed memorials are getting longer and are often called celebrations of life.

Regardless of whether people follow a faith tradition, Filyk said it is important to acknowledge wisdom from centuries past.

Memorials can be secular or religious, he said, noting there are unique ways to honour someone. with the better memorials providing opportunities to share stories.

“Any story often reveals something interesting about who they were and I think there’s something about telling those stories that somehow helps us heal,” Filyk said.

“Maybe because we’re all together having that similar focus.”

Complete Article HERE!

“Mushroom Burial Suit” Called Into Question

By

You may remember the “mushroom burial suit,” the alternative-burial product that promises a gentle return to the earth as your body becomes compost and nourishes a thriving colony of fungi. Sold as an eco-friendly burial option, the Infinity Burial Suit claimed to cleanse the body of toxins, return nutrients to the soil, and support plant growth around the body. Now critics question the accuracy of the suit’s claims.

Mushroom burial suit goes viral

The Infinity Suit took the green burial world by storm in 2011. A TED talk by suit co-creator and artist Jae Rhim Lee went viral with over a million online views. Lee presented a compelling case that our modern, chemical-laden bodies need extra detox before burial. Her suit claims to go beyond natural burial to actually remove and neutralize toxins from the body.

The hype reached a peak when news broke that 90210 star Luke Perry had chosen the mushroom suit as his preferred burial option before his sudden death in early 2019. In a highly publicized Instagram post, the actor’s daughter called the suit “genius.”

The suit relies on a “biomix of mushroom mycelium and other micro-organisms” to speed decomposition, neutralize toxins, and return the body to nature. Most notably, it’s use of mushrooms imagery implied that a colony of fungi will grow out of the shrouded corpse.

From movement to industry

As an art project meant to promote a “radical acceptance of death” with a compelling visual symbol of our return to the soil, the Infinity Suit clearly strikes a chord. Its arresting symbolism can doubtlessly inspire difficult conversations. Ultimately, though, the product doesn’t live up to its claims as a practical burial option. It turns out the purported benefits of the Infinity Suit differ little from the regular decomposition of an unembalmed body. 

Dr. Billy Campbell, co-founder of the first conservation burial ground in the United States, addresses the mushroom suit in a blog post. He explains that organisms like soil bacteria, insects, and nematodes all take part in decomposition much earlier than fungi do. To him, the complex biology of decomposition and mushroom ecology makes it difficult to design a better system than nature already has.

While our modern bodies contain sometimes alarming levels of heavy metals and toxins, these amounts prove inconsequential to surrounding soil. Contamination can take place when toxic sludge or pesticides get dumped in the same location repeatedly. However, there’s little danger of any substantial pollution from buried human remains. 

Lee’s other claim—that the Infinity Suit speeds decomposition—also falls flat upon closer examination:

“Faster decomposition means that carbon leaves the body and returns to the atmosphere as CO2 more quickly … nutrients such as nitrogen are released more rapidly. What if they are released at a speed faster than surrounding plants can actually take them up? Then they make their way into waterways and cause algae blooms just as fertilizer pollution does.”

From movement to industry

Critics also argue it falls into the same trap as the traditional funeral industry. They believe Infinity is selling “a solution to an invented problem” that has simpler, cheaper (if less visually striking) answers. In a piece for AlterNet, authors Sarah and Tim Crews call the suit’s claims “wildly misleading.” They also accuse the budding “green burial” industry of manipulating customers to buy unnecessary products.

As with any trend, the popularity of “green burial” will bring out products of varying quality. It’s inevitable as eager entrepreneurs mine a lucrative new market. As a generation of eco-conscious baby boomers ages and young people embrace “death positivity,” interest in alternative burial options will continue to grow.

In an industry not overly familiar with change, the public demand for alternative burial and memorial options has left providers scrambling to provide their customers with new choices. In 2019, the Green Burial Council recognized 72 cemeteries certified for natural burial, up from only 36 in 2012. Hundreds of cemeteries and funeral homes already offer a variety of environmentally friendly options. These include wicker caskets, shrouds, and eco-friendly urns.

Let the earth do the work

Creative, personalized memorials and innovative burial techniques can help us make peace with dying. They also can help us develop modern mourning rituals, and reduce the carbon footprint of burial. At its core, natural burial is simple and economical. The key is to keep humans out of the way (when they, for example, wan to enclose a grave in a concrete vault). The earth’s self-regulating mechanisms can do quick work of decomposition, needing no specialized equipment.

Supporters of the green burial movement value simplicity, affordability, and sustainability. Therefore, they must turn a critical eye to the upsurge of commercial interests like the Infinity Suit. These threaten to undermine their ethics and co-opt the movement with misleading claims.

Complete Article HERE!

The Emotional Wallop of My Friend’s Green Burial

What I learned about the realities of this new, but old, practice

By Janet Siroto

My friend Carla saw almost everything in life as a creative challenge — a moment to brainstorm and make a statement.

If there was a potluck brunch, no way was she picking up a dozen bagels. Instead, she’d find a recipe for pear-ginger coffee cake, go buy some fresh yeast and get baking.

Any home-improvement project triggered a deep dive into materials, colors and a discussion of what kind of light bulb would cast the right glow.

So when she was telling me about some fabric she’d found — “It’s moss green velvet and looks like the forest floor in a fairytale,” Carla said — the enthusiasm was familiar, but the circumstances very surprising.

Carla had heard about the concept of a green burial and had gone all in. Even though she was in her 60s and in good health, the idea spoke to her; her love of nature, her love of doing things a little bit more individualistically. The fabric she was describing would be her burial shroud.

Getting Back to Basics

A green burial is an “everything old is new again” practice: After death, no chemicals are used to preserve the body. No heavily shellacked coffin is placed in the earth. Rather, one’s burial is done as naturally as possible so the body can return to and nourish the very earth beneath our feet. Everything that goes into the soil must be biodegradable — and the velvet Carla found fit that bill.

This closer-to-nature concept is in sync with society’s growing concern for the planet. Before the advent of the modern burial, when loved ones died, their bodies were wrapped in a shroud and put in the ground. But by the time we reached the early- to mid-1900s, a very different, non-eco-friendly tradition had taken over.

According to Scientific American, “funerals [in the U.S.] are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”

About 50 years ago, our collective consciousness and conscience about burial began to change. “American sensibilities about environment shifted, with Rachel Carson in the ’60s and the launch of Earth Day and the formation of the EPA in 1970,” says David Charles Sloane, an urban planning professor at the University of Southern California and author of Is the Cemetery Dead? “We’ve become a much more aware society about environmental impact.

That awareness enveloped end of life, and the idea of a good death and green burial began to be entwined and gain interest. Last year, a study found that 54% of Americans were actively considering this option, and 72% of cemeteries reported an increased demand (many are responding with green zones on their premises).

Another reason why green burials are catching on: the lower price. Joyce Foley, who owns Cedar Brook Burial Ground in Limington, Maine, where Carla chose her plot, says green burials typically cost $3,000 at the very most, versus $5,000 and up for traditional burials.

Being There: At a Green Burial

But no matter how much one may read about green burial in principle or how many statistics one might absorb, little can prepare you for the actual experience. So, back to my friend Carla.

Picking the green velvet was just one facet of her creative expression. She also hunted for a natural headstone. Many green cemeteries offer local stones, but Carla wanted something special — and somewhere, somehow found a petrified tree stump that could be engraved with her name and the dates of her life when the time came. (Foley, the burial ground’s director, approved of the choice given how well it harmonized with nature.) Because the stump was so heavy, it stayed in the back of Carla’s car for at least a year, as she researched who could engrave it.

As blithe as Carla seemed about the prospect of her green burial, things took a serious turn a few years later. Her increasing fatigue led to tests, more tests, and a diagnosis of a rare blood cancer. A bone-marrow “perfect match” was found, but alas, after the procedure, graft versus host disease destroyed the hope of recovery. In her final days, Carla would say, “I hope you’ll come picnic by my spot in Maine. I’ll be helping the trees grow. The cycle of life.”

Just shy of her 70th birthday, she died in a hospice not far from her home in Cambridge, Mass., and plans were quickly made for her burial. My family — myself, my husband and our two college-age sons — joined about 10 other dear friends that day. We drove into, and then walked across, what looked very much like every nature preserve I’d ever visited. Trees everywhere. Quiet. Bird song. Rustling leaves. A gray-blue winter sky.

There were none of the manicured lawns and stately tombstones in regimented rows as you’d see at most cemeteries. We assembled at the gravesite, which had been hand-dug prior to our arrival, and barely noticed the other plots nearby, so subtle were the markers. A bunch of dried flowers or perhaps a small pile of stones revealed them to us.

The bottom of Carla’s grave had been covered with boughs to make it a soft resting place. A hearse pulled up and the driver asked my husband, sons and a couple of other men to assist. And then came the shock of seeing a plain wood board pulled from the back of the long car with my friend’s shrouded body on top of it.

I may have gasped a bit, as this was so unexpected and so far from the “avert your eyes” nature of death and burial I had grown up knowing. For a moment, I felt like a child recoiling from a scary movie.

My friend’s shrouded dead body was right there in front of all of us. We could see Carla’s silhouette — her long, slender body; her aquiline nose. There was no coffin to shield us from the truth that her incandescent spirit had left this world and only her remains were now here. It was quite an emotional wallop.

How often are any of us in the presence of a corpse, let alone one about to be put into the soil? How often do we have this kind of unmediated, unmedicalized contact with someone who has departed this realm?

Before Carla was lowered into the ground, a few of us placed a hand on the contour of her shoulder (yes, you could make it out) and said our goodbyes. The board with her body was then lowered via straps into the grave by the men in the group. Some people tossed in loose flowers. Carla’s friend Louie had brought his guitar and sang her favorite song, “Here Comes the Sun.”

Carla’s daughter said, “This is exactly what she wanted. It’s all so beautiful.”

The Simple Truth

It’s been a couple of years since that day, and I have visited only once, when I was heading to Maine for a wedding. I spent a bit of time by Carla’s gravesite and that stump tombstone and thought about the gift of her friendship and how much I wished she were still here.

The green burial was one of the gifts of her friendship. She showed those closest to her a path of possibility, different from the mainstream.

My family and I still talk about the raw beauty of the burial, of how we felt so close to Carla and so intimately involved with her transition to whatever may be ahead. My husband and sons still talk about the visceral experience of transporting and then lowering her body — feeling its weight — so Carla could become one with the earth and “feed a tree,” as she said.

It was a jarring experience in the moment, to be sure — but one I will always remember. It connected me to Carla at the end of our time together and also to the most elemental way of saying goodbye to the dead, as our ancestors had done for generations. It brought a simplicity and meaning to one of life’s hardest passages.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Be Eco-Friendly When You’re Dead

Standard burial and cremation take tons of energy and resources. So what’s the most environmentally sound way to deal with a dead person?

By

When Phil Olson was 20, he earned money in the family business by draining the blood from corpses. Using a long metal instrument, he sucked the fluid out of the organs, and pumped the empty space and the arteries full of three gallons of toxic embalming fluid. This process drains the corpse of nutrients and prevents it from being eaten by bacteria, at least until it’s put into the ground. Feebly encased in a few pounds of metal and wood, it wasn’t long until all the fluid and guts just leaked back out.

Most of the bodies Olson prepared in his family’s funeral home would then be buried in traditional cemeteries, below a lawn of grass that must be mowed, watered, sprayed with pesticides, and used for nothing else, theoretically until the end of time.

Cemeteries “are kind of like landfills for dead bodies,” says Olson. Today, as a philosopher at Virginia Tech, his work looks at the alternatives to traditional funeral practices. He has a lot to think about: The environmentally friendly funeral industry is booming, as people begin to consider the impacts their bodies might have once they’re dead. Each year, a million pounds of metal, wood, and concrete are put in the ground to shield dead bodies from the dirt that surrounds them. A single cremation requires about two SUV tanks worth of fuel. As people become increasingly concerned with the environment, many of them are starting to seek out ways to minimize the impact their body has once they’re done using it.

There all kinds of green practices and products available these days on the so-called “death care” market. So many, in fact, that in 2005 Joe Sehee founded the Green Burial Council—a non-profit that keeps tabs on the green funeral industry, offering certifications for products and cemeteries. Sehee saw a need to prevent meaningless greenwashing in the green burial world. “It is a social movement. It’s also a business opportunity,” he said. So what’s the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of a body? It all depends on your preferences.

For those who still want to be be buried, a greener approach may include switching out the standard embalming fluids made of a combination of formaldehyde and rubbing alcohol, with ones made of essential oils. And instead of a heavy wood and metal box that will take years to degrade and leave behind toxic residue, there are now Green Burial Council-certified biodegradable cedar caskets.

Others are choosing to forgo the casket completely and opt for what’s called a “natural burial,” involving only a burlap sack buried in the woods. If you don’t have a forest handy, in some cities bodies may soon be placed in an industrial sized compost bin, and turned over to create fertile soil.

That’s the idea behind the Urban Death Project, which envisions a three-story downtown cemetery for bodies: a stylized pit of sorts, filled with carbon-rich material. Microbes decompose the bodies into a compost. It is a green practice, but not simply a utilitarian one: Urban Death Project bills itself as “a space for contemplation of our place in the natural world.” Bodies are “folded back into the communities where they have lived,” the website explains.

For those who might have opted for cremation rather than burial, there are green alternatives to that as well. Currently on the market is a method called “green cremation” that uses a pressurized metal chamber and bath of chemicals. The technique started out as a way to dispose of lab animals at Albany Medical College, and it is now legal for use on humans in just eight states.

In this method, also known as alkaline hydrolysis, bodies are dissolved into a liquid that is safe to flush into the sewage system. Overall, the process uses 90 percent less energy than traditional cremation—though it will skyrocket a funeral home’s water bills. “It uses a ton, a ton, of water,” says Olson. According to an alkaline hydrolysis system manufacturer, about 300 gallons per human body. Olson thinks recycled “grey water” could be used to cut down on the water waste. But he wonders: “Will families say, ‘I don’t want grandma dissolved in dirty dishwater’?”

Olson says that it’s not necessarily the green-ness of this new cremation that appeals to people. It’s how gentle it seems. “Burning grandma in fire seems to be violent,” he says. “In contrast, green cremation is ‘putting grandma in a warm bath.’”

And that perception is generally far more important to people than the eco-friendliness of the process. Even projects that put the environment front-and-center emphasize the feeling of a pleasant exit, and a lasting connection to the Earth.

So what does Sehee look for in a truly green burial? Something that works to actively conserve rural land. The council awards three leaves—the highest rating available—to burial plots that not only eschew embalming fluid and vaults, but double as conservation spaces. A three-leaved process does away with nearly every environmental concern related to burial and cremation and works to keep land free of development and pesticide.

Ultimately, which eco-friendly exit you choose is mostly about personal comfort. And if the choices seem daunting, it’s worth remembering: Even the most energy-intensive acts of burial pale in comparison to the carbon footprint you’re leaving right now.

Complete Article HERE!