Transform into a pine tree! Be a fungus among us! Infuse into a coral reef and sleep with the fishes! It’s not science fiction. It’s part of a movement of alternative funeral choices that have left more people asking themselves: If it’s my time to go, why not go green?
According to the Green Burial Council (GBC), a non-profit that encourages environmentally sustainable choices for the deceased, interest in green burials is on the rise. For the eco-friendly, it’s a life-and-death decision. Chiefly, to ensure death causes minimal harm to future life.
The GBC acts as a directory for funeral homes and cemeteries that provide green services and natural burials across the country. In Rhode Island, Olsen & Parent in Providence is the only GBC-certified funeral home in the state. On their website, they define their services as a “concise decision to select procedures, services and products that limit pollution and the use of chemicals.” Because Rhode Island is one of several states without a dedicated green cemetery, Olsen & Parish’s green burials are limited to a choice of biodegradable caskets and the decision not to embalm. Many state cemeteries aren’t guaranteed to be pesticide-free, and still require a vault liner.
Vault liners, or burial vaults, are generally made of concrete and heavy enough to be lowered into the ground by crane. Environmental ramifications of concrete production aside, most don’t envision their eternity beginning like phase one of a construction site. It may not be a complete surprise then that burgeoning companies have come up with creative solutions to continue the circle of life in a way that feels more meaningful.
In Italy, Capsula Mundi, which defines itself as a “cultural and broad-based project,” is a start-up that seeks to: 1) arrange the deceased into fetal positions, 2) place them in biodegradable pods and 3) bury them in the ground. A tree is then planted above the pod, its growth presumably enriched by the nutrients in the body below. The end game for Capsula Mundi is a complete transformation of the way the living experience cemeteries. They hope to foster a transition from tombstones to forests.
For those unwilling to wait and see if Capsula Mundi’s idea reaches funded (and legally sanctioned) fruition, Bios Urn offers a different tree hugging alternative. The company, headquartered in Spain, produces and sells the world’s first fully biodegradable urn, designed to convert the ashes of a person into a tree. The urn, emblazoned with a silhouette of a man with a recycle symbol for a head, features a lower compartment for ashes and a top level for seed and soil. In 2016, the company successfully crowdfunded a second product, Bios Incube. Rather than plant your loved one in the ground, Bios Incube acts as an incubator, allowing you to grow and sustain your tree anywhere. At least anywhere on land.
Eternal Reefs allow you to simultaneously foster marine life and memorialize the deceased by mixing ashes into concrete and forming “reef balls” to be placed on the bottom of the ocean. Fish migrate to the newly stationed reefs immediately and, dependent on water conditions, the organization states growth can be seen within weeks.
In general, it’s hard to feel bad about a grave site that leaves you snuggling with sea turtles. Yet, both Eternal Reefs and Bios Urn call for cremation. A process that, while less environmentally damaging than traditional burial, still emits greenhouse gases. For the consummate conservationist who wishes to absolutely minimize his footprint in death, there is another solution.
The Infinity Burial Suit.
Developed by Coeio, a New York-based company, the Infinity Burial Suit goes a step beyond natural burials. Because while a natural burial may not introduce the chemicals of embalming or byproducts of caskets, the decomposition of the body still releases toxins into the earth. Coeio solved this problem by developing a burial suit that has fabric laced with mushrooms and microorganisms designed to aid in decomposition and absorb toxins found in the body. The killer suit sells for $1,500 and for those wishing to buy in advance, Coeio assures that the mushrooms found in the lining only eat dead flesh.
It’s easy to be gauche about all of it. In design, the Infinity Burial Suit calls to mind police renderings of the Zodiac Killer’s death shrouds. Sketches of the Italian tree pods don’t look entirely dissimilar from the cotton candy cocoons of Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Maybe you don’t want to have a picnic in a forest made of your ancestors’ mortal remains.
But breaking from tradition and finding a solution that weds spirituality and sustainability is serious business. Because in the next life, green could be the new black.