This ‘Death Suit’ Makes Burials Eco- and Wallet-Friendly

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A suit made of mushroom spores helps decompose bodies sustainably.

By  Alex Janin

Jae Rhim Lee doing a TED Talk in her mushroom burial suit.

Jae Rhim Lee doing a TED Talk in her mushroom burial suit.

With the rise of electric cars, sustainable architecture, eco-friendly diets, composting, and countless other options, forging a sustainable life is often as easy as it is trendy. Now it’s even easy after death thanks to a bodysuit made from a decidedly old-school material: mushrooms.

The Infinity Burial Suit, a one-piece garment designed to be worn in the afterlife, is sewn with mushroom spore–infused thread. Although researcher Jae Rhim Lee debuted the idea in a 2011 TED Talk, her New York–based company, Coeio, only recently announced that the suit will be available for purchase midway through 2016. The pet option—which is a sack rather than a suit—is projected to go on sale March 1, the cofounder of Coeio, Mike Ma, told TakePart.

The suit also comes with an environmentally friendly embalming fluid and a mineral applicant made of mushroom spores. The two are supposed to be applied directly to the body to work in tandem with the suit to speed up the decomposition process.

Ma believes there are three benefits to this. “This technology speeds the return to earth through decomposition, it remediates toxins we accumulate over a lifetime, and it speeds nutrient delivery back to plants,” he said.

In her 2011 TED Talk, Lee touched on this, pointing out that “our bodies are filters and storehouses for environmental toxins.” Lee and Ma’s goal is to eliminate these toxins in a sustainable way.

Their method may seem a little morbid, but it has environmental advantages. Burial, the most popular choice for Americans, usually involves the use of a casket—which pulls from the earth’s wood and mineral resources—and toxic embalming fluid.

In the U.S. alone, 30 million board feet of casket wood is used annually for burials, according to Scientific American. Similarly, the U.S. uses 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, traditionally used to preserve a body rather than allow it to decay, each year. The toxic fluid contains a known carcinogen—formaldehyde—that leaches into the soil following burial. Cremations aren’t much better, emitting 246,240 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year from the U.S., says the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

The mushroom suit takes a load off more than just the environment. It will sell for about $999, said Ma—significantly less than the $7,181 the average funeral cost in 2014 and less than the $6,087 average expense of cremating a body.

Although the mushroom suit provides a cost-effective alternative, the goal is to do so without losing the beauty of the process. The suit itself is a work of art thanks to designers such as Daniel Silverstein, who has designed clothing for Jennifer Hudson and Kristen Bell.

“We still care a lot about the ceremony and fashion, so it can still be beautiful,” said Ma.

Ma, whose grandparents died last year, shared his personal experience with the funeral-planning process. “I was heavily involved in the logistics, and I kept thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I’m making a lot of terrible decisions as a businessperson, and at the same time, I’m so emotionally overwrought with what’s going on,’ ” he said.

Ma hopes the suit will help launch conversations about death and reshape the idea from “scary” to something everyone experiences.

“Our products really help people think about their deaths in congruence with how they live their lives. When people do that, they stand a chance to live life better,” he said.

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