While traditional burial was the only choice for many decades, we've entered a new phase, and people are looking for something different. Innovations and new ideas abound, some of which are a reaction to increasingly scarce land or other environmental concerns. Here’s a summary of non-traditional burial options you may find interesting.
Alkaline Hydrolysis, aka Water Cremation
AKA “flameless cremation,” or even “aquamation.” While cremation isn’t the perfect analogy, there are similarities. As with traditional cremation, the body is placed into a container; but instead of using fire, AH involves a chemical process. Basically, it’s a combo of a liquid solution 95% water (and 5% potassium or sodium hydroxide) that’s used in concert with extreme heat and elevated pressure. The effect: tissue is broken down, and what remains is liquid and bone fragments. After the liquid is removed, remaining bone fragments are dried and converted into something that closely resembles cremated ashes. Currently, alkaline hydrolysis is only legal in seventeen states, but that may change if it becomes a popular choice.
The Mushroom Death Suit
AKA the “Infinity Burial Suit.” If you’re feeling a green funeral, this could be a pretty badass way to reduce your carbon footprint. Why is the Infinity Burial Suit so green? Well, it’s what’s in the suit. The “outfit” is made from organic cotton and covers the entire body (a panel that shrouds the face can be temporarily removed for a viewing or visitation.) Woven into the suit’s material are…yep…mushroom spores! These not only cleanse the body of toxins that would otherwise corrode the earth, but also transmit nutrients from the body that help the plants surrounding it prosper.
A revolutionary alternative to traditional burial, human composting is a brand new and environmentally friendly option. The creator of the concept is Katrina Spade, an architect by trade who envisions new processes and even new spaces for community, celebrating, and healing. Spade is the founder of Recompose, and she has led on promoting legislation as well as on the development of the science behind human composting. To explain it very simply (and we’re not scientists, so make sure you do your own further investigating if you’re interested in human composting), a body is placed in a pod-like vessel along with wood chips, straw, and alfalfa. Heat is pumped in to stimulate microbial activity. Then, voila! Nature does her work. After about a month, what remains is around a cubic yard of fluffy soil that can be returned to friends or family (or given to a conservation group.) At the moment, though, human composting is only legal in Washington state.
For those who want to be eco-friendly, but not “too” alternative, a green burial (aka “natural burial”) involves traditional burial practices but in a less environmentally impactful way. For example, rather than have a typical casket (metal or polished wood) you can choose a biodegradable option (wicker, seagrass, natural wood etc.) or in some cases choose a simple shroud. You can opt not to be embalmed, reducing the chemicals that will enter the earth. For more information on green burial, check out this article.
If you’ve decided that you want to be cremated but still want something less traditional, there are some pretty cool options out there for you.
Grow Roots as a Tree. Cremated remains alone lack the nutrients for growth. One company, Bio Urns, offers a biodegradable urn that keeps seeds and nutrients separate from the cremated remains during the gestation period of the seed. Then after about a week, when the root is strong enough, the ashes (contained at the bottom of the urn) mix with the seed and a tree grows!
Enhance the Ocean. “Memorial reefs” are artificial coral reefs that are made from a molded mixture of concrete and cremated remains. The structure is processed to make sure it’s safe to add to the water, and then it’s installed on the ocean floor. Over time, it attracts ocean life (think barnacles and plants and whatnot!) and transform to provide a home for life to thrive, just as natural reef would do.
Shine Bright Like a Diamond. There are countless options for what to do with cremated remains. Read more about them here.
Look, we realize some of these alternatives may feel a little “out there” at first, but remember, people once scoffed at cremation, thinking it would never last. So many companies are innovating in this space at the moment. It’ll be fascinating to see if any of these new options become really popular, or what’s next! We’ll keep you posted when we hear of cool new developments. If you’d like to keep up with the latest, subscribe to our newsletter and podcast!