Innovation That Matters

Freeze-dried eco burials

Work & Lifestyle

The pharaohs built pyramids to help protect their mummified remains for millennia. But these days an opposite trend has taken hold: low-impact burials that enable a body to naturally revert back to the soil as quickly as possible. In the UK, for example, well over 100 special cemeteries permit the burial of the deceased in biodegradable coffins. However, critics say that unless sufficient safeguards are in place, the human remains inside those coffins can pose a hazard since they may contain toxic metals and other substances that can seep into groundwater. Which is why various companies are promoting high-tech methods that allow cadavers to decompose while avoiding potential environmental hazards. Some of the techniques may seem strange, but they eliminate the messy embalming fluids, concrete crypts and metallic caskets used in traditional burials. Case in point: Promessa Organic. The Swedish firm’s technology begins by freezing a body to minus 18 degrees Celsius. A bath in liquid nitrogen cools the corpse even further, making it brittle. Next, vibrations render it into powder, and later the water that makes up the largest part of human bodies is evaporated by means of a vacuum chamber. Finally, ground polluting metals—such as mercury from tooth fillings—are removed, and the now-purified powder is placed in a small, corn starch casket. Once buried, casket and remains fully decompose in 6–12 months. Promessa is currently still preparing for commercial launch, but will tap into a growing trend at an optimal time. The funeral industry in the US alone is worth USD 15 billion annually and is on track for strong growth over the next decades. Moreover, public attitudes toward dying are liable to change as baby boomers, who’ve been independent-minded throughout their lives, prepare for their swan song. (Related: Art after life.) Spotted by: Susanna Haynie



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