Eco coffins and mushroom burial suits: how to have an eco-friendly death

In Ireland, dying can cost from €1,750 to €7,000 and upwards, with a standard funeral coming to a whopping €4,000 (and that’s not even taking burial costs into account). Nowadays a single plot in a Dublin graveyard can fall anywhere between €2,100 and €16,000. This comes down to a simple fact: there is not enough supply for the demand coming in from our ever-increasing, ever-ageing population.

However, while many of us have a vague idea of how expensive laying a loved one to rest can be, most Irish people are completely unaware of the price that the environment pays as a result of our current practices.

If you’re passionate about eco-friendly living, then it’s worth considering the various options that are currently available for eco-dying. The below concepts vary in their levels of strangeness, but each one will give you the chance to champion the same sustainability values in death, as you did throughout your life. One thing's for sure, they’ll allow you to rest in peace, safe in the knowledge that you’ve done your bit to help the future of the world in so far as you possibly can.

How current practices affect the environment

Burial

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Traditional burial practices aren't great from an environmental perspective. In the past, coffins in Ireland were generally made from a simple, local wood, with maybe a bit of cloth under the body and a pair of rosary beads interwoven in the deceased’s fingers. Today things are very different. Coffins are now adorned with ruffles of silk and velvet, often made from metals, toxic plastic or endangered wood which is chemically treated and varnished for a high-shine effect.

These processes essentially make the casket non-biodegradable and this prevents a corpse from decomposing efficiently. What’s more, the fact that they’re buried six feet deep means that the body decomposes without oxygen, resulting in a slow-rotting process and the release of methane from the body, which has seriously damaging effects on the surrounding earth and nearby water systems.

Cremation

Cremation isn’t a distinctly superior alternative either, as the process uses a lot of energy and leaves a huge carbon footprint in its wake. According to Bob Butz, author of Going Out Green: One Man's Adventure Planning His Own Natural Burial, the energy used to cremate one body is the equivalent to what is needed to drive 7.7km.

Image via Austin Thesing on Unsplash

“So what is the best option, then?”

This is a topic that has been hotly debated, and as of yet the jury is still undecided on which method is the best on a practical, environmental and economic level. From biodegradable coffins to reef-feeding ashes and tree-sprouting urns, here are five ways to make your last act on earth a considered, responsible and eco-friendly one.

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Natural burials

A natural burial looks very similar to a normal burial, except these burials include the deceased being placed in a biodegradable coffin made from recycled or waste materials such as willow, pine and water hyacinth, with the absence of any varnish, plastics or metals. They’re buried just four feet underground to aid decomposition, and no embalming fluids or toxic chemicals of any kind can be used. Many Irish funeral companies provide a wide range of "eco coffins", including Fanagans in Dublin, and Green Coffins in Donegal.

Aside from being environmentally friendly, natural burials are also a far cheaper than traditional burials because instead of a large granite memorial, each grave is identified by a tree or plant of some sort, with a simple, wooden marker identifying the deceased buried below.

Woodbrook Natural Burial Ground in Killane, Co. Wexford, is Ireland’s first Natural Burial Ground, and charges €950 per single plot, while a traditional graveyard plot in Ireland can cost up to €16,000 and above. Woodbrook was created by Colin McAteer in 2010, who stated that “allowing your funeral to be used as a conservation tool will leave a legacy of care and respect for our planet”

Image of natural burial grounds via thenaturalburialcompany.co.uk

Compost your corpse

A Swedish company called Promessa has developed a way to turn a corpse into compost material through a very simple and sustainable method. The body is freeze-dried, then submerged in liquid nitrogen, following this the body is exposed to thunderous sound waves which cause it to break down into a fine white powder. This powder is full of lots of nutrients for plants to thrive off, making it a perfect for planting a tree, shrub or garden.

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Mushroom burial suit

We all know that the human body is filled with toxins, but what one scientist has discovered is that mushrooms are able to absorb and purify these very toxins as the body decomposes, and turn them into beneficial nutrients. It was with this knowledge that Jae Rhim Lee came to create her special head-to-toe mushroom spores burial suit.

According to Lee, these mushrooms are specially trained to break down and convert dead human tissue and pass the resulting nutrients through the soil to provide sustenance to the nearby trees. By being buried in this “spore suit”, a person could be sure that their final act would be a most earthly one; feeding the forest with their own remains.

Jae Rhim Lee wearing the mushroom suit

Save the world’s reefs

As already mentioned, cremation is not a particularly sustainable way to go, but if the idea of being buried is too much to handle, then how about ensuring your ashes are turned into something environmentally beneficial following the cremation, at least?

As climate change causes coral reefs around the world to disappear at unprecedented levels, it’s interesting to note that we can help turn back the clock with nothing more than our cremated remains. Eternal Reefs is one company that combines cremated remains with an environmentally safe cement mixture to create an artificial reef, which is then dropped in the ocean to support marine life and nourish coral and microorganisms for hundreds of years to come. Cool, heh?

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Image via Toby Hudson/Wikipedia

Bio Urns

Providing another way to balance out the carbon emissions produced through cremation, Bios Urn has created a biodegradable urn that hosts both the deceased’s ashes, plus a tree seed within. Once the urn is buried and the tree begins to grow, the urn then decomposes, becoming part of the sub-soil and helping the ash to act as a fertiliser for the tree.

 

Main image via Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash


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