Death is something that we all encounter at some point. Maybe we avoid thinking about it, others embrace it, some fear it but regardless it happens eventually. It doesn’t really end there though. Our bodies are composed of cells, like all living things, and we decompose, like all living things. In ages past we would be buried or burned and the minerals and elements composing our human forms would return to the earth in a beautiful cycle of death leading to new life. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t as natural as they once were. Decomposition releases all sorts of toxins, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and other unnatural particulates our tissues may have accumulated. Not to mention things like watch batteries, pacemakers and other implants. Making matters even worse is the embalming practice that adds toxic substances, like formaldehyde, to slow the decomposition process. Plus there is the coffin itself, which is generally so modified with paints and fine fabrics that it is no longer anything at all like natural wood. It’ll take some time, but eventually it will all decompose and those pollutants are free to move through the soil and the water. Cremation doesn’t improve the situation because it simply releases those elements into the atmosphere, along with a whole lot of carbon, so they can be distributed a greater distance.
Fortunately, for those interested in reducing their environmental impact even after death, there are other options. Jae Rhim Lee, co-founder and CEO of Coeio, has designed the “Infinity Burial Suit”. The idea is to use mushrooms, more specifically mycelium, to assist decomposition and help breakdown tissues along with toxins.
Mushrooms are incredible organisms. Most people are familiar with mushrooms in the form of food or what you see growing on the forest floor. Mushrooms are only part of the story; they are the “fruit”, if you will, of a complex underground network made up of mycelium. Mycelia have been found to do much more than you might imagine. They are an essential element of almost all healthy soils, helping with nutrient availability, soil moisture and pest control. Some varieties even enter root cells and help gather water and nutrients. Mycoremediation is a growing field of study as we try to find solutions to the contamination on our planet. Fungi mycelia are one of the few organisms that can actually breakdown polycarbonates (plastics) and hydrocarbons (crude oil). By using selection propagation methods it is even possible to create mycelium with an appetite for specific materials. This is basically what Jae Rhim Lee has done to create the Infinity Burial Suit.
Rather than spend all that money on a coffin and have your body injected with pollutants, you could be buried in a simple suit full of mycelium specializing in decomposition. They will help breakdown toxins and spread the nutrients to the surrounding plants. As a bonus, leftover scraps from the suits are composted and they are in the process of converting the manufacturers to renewable energy. The result is about as green a burial as you can get, unless you can convince someone to bury you naked, deep in the woods, far from any sources of water.
In these modern times there are of course regulations when it comes to where and how you can bury a human body, but this doesn’t prevent anyone from having a more environmentally conscious burial. You just have to do a bit of research and make some informed decisions. Caskets that are made of natural wood, without all the glues, lacquers and polyurethanes, will decompose naturally and Coeio even makes a casket liner with their mycelium mix to help the process. Everyone has the option to skip the open casket and fancy make-up job in favor of o’natural. Adding mycelium helps things along, but making environmentally conscious choices is the key factor.
Perhaps it is our unwillingness to accept death that prevents us from questioning the broader impacts of our burial practices, but if you consider all the people being buried or cremated with little consideration of the environmental impact, it should strike you as rather important.
There is more information on the Coeio website and there is a TED talk from the early stages of this project. The recipe for the suit has changed a bit since the talk but the message remains the same.
Would you choose to be buried in an Infinity Burial Suit?
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