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Alternatives to traditional burials
Regine Debatty, 30 Nov 04

Swedish ecologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak has developed Promessa, a method for recycling human corpses into fertilizer.

While cremation burns fossil fuels and releases pollutants, burials require that the corpse be filled with embalming fluids which can pollute the groundwater as the body decays.

Wiigh-Masak's solution has bodies immersed in liquid nitrogen to remove water, causing them to crumble into fine organic dust. This is then placed in a container that biodegrades within six months.

Having tested the method with pig and cow carcasses, she planted roses above the containers with excellent results.

Elsewhere in Europe, Arteus sells eco-friendly coffins made of cellulose fibre. It usually takes a whole tree to make a traditional coffin, but a hundred of Arteus products can be manufactured out of the equivalent of a recycled tree.

A bit more on the artistic side, but very thought-provoking: Biopresence, by London-based Shiho Fukuhara and Georg Tremmel, uses a specially developed coding method to encode human DNA underneath the DNA of a plant cell, without affecting the resulting tree in any way. So, the person's DNA will live on as an integral part of the tree. These new kind of trees can be seen as "Memorials for Life" or as "Transgenic Tombstones" and could offer an alternative to traditional graves and headstones.

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Comments

Sounds pretty cool. Just make sure I'm dead before you cover me with liquid nitro. I have heard that it takes significantly less energy to cool the nitro than to fully incinerate you. Since you don't burn off all the chemical energy it would make for some powerful fertilizer. Remember loved-ones, a little of me goes a long way.


Posted by: Sean on 30 Nov 04

This method seems much better to me than turning my loved one into a diamond.


Posted by: jesslin on 30 Nov 04

Susanne Wiigh-Masak's method is an improvement over current practice, but isn't this whole business insane from an ecological point of view? Other lifeforms are content to decompose or let themselves be eaten, thus recycling themselves into other beings.

It takes human ingenuity to turn a natural process into something that is expensive, polluting, and energy-intensive.

I remember one of the Weavers (50s folk group) saying that when he died, he wanted to be placed in a compost pile. Sounds sensible to me!


Posted by: bart on 1 Dec 04

True, the most original for us as humans was to be eaten when we died, but that was a long long time ago. Since then we complicated things a lot. The problem with us humanbeings is that we are so big, we wont become soil in a decent way if we are just composted. In some way we have to prepare the body to make it possible to mulch. What I tried to suggest is to replace the wild animals with an etically good tecnique. This is probably the only known way for us to become soil again (exept for the wild animals). I did this for the reason of deepest respect for the living soil and for letting us feel connected to the creation in a more natural way. To do this it takes some enery, but that goes for the other methods as well. This is just a new alternativ. You do not have to choose it.


Posted by: Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak on 1 Dec 04

Sorry, Susanne, I may not have been clear in my comments. I think yours is a GREAT idea, especially as it leads us back gradually to a more sensible approach. What is an abomination in my mind is the elaborate embalming fluid/coffin/burial plot typical in the US.

I may like the idea of composting my body, but the health authorities don't approve and my family may not understand. So your scheme sounds like a good first step, respecting current customs as it does.


Posted by: bart on 1 Dec 04

Wow. Is there anywhere I could register? :)


Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 1 Dec 04

We are just on the way starting up a foundation to take care of the very big interest for those questions. You can follow the development on our website: www.promessafoundation.org
/ Susanne


Posted by: Susanne on 1 Dec 04

There are easier ways of avoiding traditional burial. In the UK, there are now over 200 dedicated natural or woodland burial grounds. At these sites, a biodegradable coffin (cardboard, bamboo, wicker, untreated wood) is used, and a tree is planted instead of a gravestone.

In this way, land lying dormant becomes woodland, pollution is reduced (no lead-lined coffins in the ground / cremations contributing to air pollution) and the degradation process is swifter.

See the Natural Death Centre for more.


Posted by: Nick Temple on 2 Dec 04

If you've ever read "A diet for a small planet" or other books which advocate vegetarianism on the grounds that it is the best way to feed all earth's citizens (minimizing energy losses from eating other top-of-the-food-chain animals like beef and tuna). The problem with our current burial practices, is the same. Except this time we are the top-of-the food chain animal, and we are removing all the nutrients and energy that we've accumulated in our bodies from the biocycle. These ideas you point out are really exciting.

A slightly less exciting, but nevertheless interesting idea is the one being pursued by Eternal reefs (www.eternalreefs.com) which provides the option for your cremated remains to become part of a constructed coral reef. In this case, the physical remains are pretty much the same as any cremated remains -- wasting energy and fossil fuels. The difference is that they leverage the desire for that person's remains to live on into funding for reviving reef habitat. And, it's significantly easier, because cremation, as opposed to composting, is already socially accepted.

Maybe other concepts based on this approach could be used to stepping stone into an entirely green method for burial.


Posted by: Dominic Muren on 2 Dec 04



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