(4 part series on Human Disposition)
PART 4 – ALTERNATIVE AND NEWEST TECHNOLOGIES FOR BODY DISPOSAL
LIFE NEVER STOPS
Our collective awareness of what constitutes life is changing.
Our society increasingly acknowledges death as part of life, and not opposed to life. When we can truly accept our mortality, and our temporal physical nature, we begin to understand the mechanics of loss and the profoundly precious opportunity of having a Life. In nature, everything is designed to be lost. We all need help in grasping this fact.
LET’S GO KIND
In 1876, cremation was a new and novel technology. But back then we weren’t counting greenhouse emissions and pollution. The business of modern burial and being put 6 feet under has been unnecessarily wasteful. But this too will change… see Natural burial (Part 3 of this series).
There is a growing movement toward more sensitive alternatives to burial and common body disposition practises. Many of us would like our remains to be returned to our origins in the form of something useful rather than harmful to the future planet. Technological advancement, rampant in almost all other facets of life, has been slow to touch the funeral industry, and this has frustrated many.
BURIAL ALTERNATIVES GOING MAINSTREAM
So here’s a quick tour of burgeoning new and progressive ways to return our bodies to the elements, beginning with the best current alternative to flame cremation…
– the leading alternative to common cremation mostly due to being much less energy intensive. Also known as Resomation (alluding to the machine it all happens in), Green Cremation, Bio Cremation, Water Cremation or Aquamation. Much more environmentally conscious than flame-based cremation, it is now legal in the UK and 14 US states and completely eliminates hazardous waste emission. The body is placed and weighed in a pressure cooker vessel with an alkaline base of potassium hydroxide and water. This mix is heated to liquefy the body. After a few hours, all that remains is our original chemical amino acid components in sterile liquid, and powder-soft bone. The sanitary liquid is released down the drain and the white bone powder is returned to family.
– a burial method using cryogenic freezing developed in Sweden. Liquid nitrogen crystallises the body and then sound wave vibration disintegrates it into particles. These are freeze dried, sealed inside a biodegradable coffin and buried in a shallow grave. We are thereby turned into healthy nutrient rich soil.
THE INFINITY BURIAL SUIT by Coeio
– more commonly called The Mushroom Suit, is a handcrafted garment worn by the deceased as an alternative to the use of a coffin for burial. The suit contains a biomix of mushroom fungi and other microorganisms that do 3 things: accelerate decomposition, neutralise any harmful toxins, and transfer life nutrients to plants.
– it’s basically human composting! Our ancestral farmers have been doing this with dead livestock for thousands of years. It involves placing remains into a carbon rich material like sawdust or wood chips. Add to this, extra moisture or nitrogen allowing good bacteria and their enzymes to break down human tissue over a few months. The heat that’s generated kills any pathogens originally present, is odourless and has no runoff. Each body combined with sawdust and woodchips would produce enough dark, nutrient rich compost to fill a 3-foot cube. Some of this can be gathered by families to use in nurturing a garden. The first completed plant, a 3 storey vault, has just begun accepting clientele in Washington state (USA).
– a biodegradable egg-shaped burial pod. Consider being encased in a pod that nourishes a sapling into a tree as your body decomposes after death. Bodies are laid down in a foetal position in capsules, and then buried like a seed in the earth. A tree that was chosen by the deceased in life will be planted on top to serve as a memorial. In the long term, their tree serves as a legacy for the future of our planet.
While none of these alternative methods of disposition are currently available in Australia, green funeral choices are reminding us all of our desire to stay natural at the end of our lives. Amongst all this innovative technology, I still choose natural burial. To be shrouded or encased in a simple cardboard, pine or woven casket, lined with unbleached fabric or natural bedding like wood shaving, wool, straw, or cotton fibre, is to my mind a supreme departure.
In shallow burial, I find peace in the knowledge that my body will be placed in an active layer of soil in designated fertile land. My remains will be metabolised by the living organisms that carry life forward, allowing a perfect recirculation of energy and of life.