You've come from soil, but how do you go back in the most environmentally friendly way possible? Hot water, composting, or perhaps a suit of mushrooms? Around the world, work is underway to develop alternatives to the established burial methods.
"In Sweden, there is hardly any discussion about alternative burial methods and environmental impact," says Ulf Lerneus, Federal Chairman of the Association of Swedish Funeral Homes.
One reason is that the crematories have worked a lot to renovate to reduce their emissions. But Ulf Lerneus thinks that the issue is important for the funeral industry.
"When there is a death, the environment is not at the forefront, so we in the industry have to take much of that responsibility, otherwise we will not make progress."
At the idea stage
In other countries "green funerals" is a bigger issue. Some methods are only at the idea stage, but some have come so far that they are used. The method Ulf Lerneus thinks is closest to coming to Sweden is natural organic degradation – composting simply – which today is approved in six US states.
"It involves placing the deceased in a half coffin, the lower part of the coffin, and adding wood chips, straw and alpha sprouts. The sprouts keep the organisms in the body alive to speed up decomposition.
The coffin is kept in a facility with the right oxygen and heat and the body decomposes in around ten weeks. About half a cubic meter of topsoil remains.
"We think this could be something for the future. Young people today talk a lot about earth burial from an environmental perspective, and this could be an alternative."
Water and mushrooms
One method that received much attention when Archbishop Desmond Tutu died in 2021 is water cremation, also called aqauamation or resomation.
"The body is placed in a large drum, like a large centrifuge, where you inject 170 degrees of warm water with high pressure and add alkaline ions that lower the ph-value. It takes about three hours to break down the body and then you have a white flour left – about as much as after a cremation."
Today there are some 15 plants worldwide that perform water cremations.
There is also ongoing work on how to make the funeral greener with the help of mushrooms, for example, a Dutch company has developed a coffin made of mycelium and wood shavings with a bed of moss and head cushion of bark.
Other mushroom-related projects are a sweeping of leaves and mushrooms or a costume of fungi and other microorganisms.
"When we look at new methods, we look primarily at the ethical, we talk about the environment, we talk about the economy. It's three heavy parts to introduce anything new at all. It's a relatively long procedure."
The government decides
In the end, it is the government that decides whether a new burial method should be allowed. Then it is important that the method is fully developed.
Promession, a type of freeze-drying of the body, is a Swedish method that gained a lot of attention in the early 2000s. A number of deceased were frozen for burial by promession, but the company behind it never managed to build a facility where the method could be put into practice.
The dead were left lying around for years before the Swedish Tax Agency stopped granting deferrals and they were buried in the usual way - against their wishes and those of their families.
How long will it be before earth burial and cremation become competitive in Sweden? Ulf Lerneus thinks ten or fifteen years.
"In 30 years, I think a lot will have happened."
Facts: Alternative Funeral Methods
Natural organic reduction – human composting.
The body is placed in a container with straw, wood shavings and other natural materials. The composting process creates heat above 55 degrees, which kills viruses, bacteria and pathogens. Heavy metals stabilize in the soil instead of in the air.
The body is placed in an airtight container with alkaline water. All organic material is broken down in the warm water, then the bone remains are gathered together and go through a drying process.
A company in the Netherlands developed "Loop Cocoon" a coffin made of mycelium and wood shavings with a bed of moss, plants and living microorganisms. The coffin has been used for at least one funeral.
Other projects are a shroud of leaves and fungi or a suit of fungi and other microorganisms that promote decomposition, neutralize toxins in the body and transfer nutrients to plant life.
The body is frozen and then vibrated to a dust that can decompose and become soil. The method has never been tested in practice.
Source: The Order of Good Death