Five approaches for a more environmentally friendly end of life

Earth Day, held annually April 22, brings crowds of people outdoors to plant trees or participate in cleanups. These are admirable feats, but this year, we challenge you to take a broader look at ways to save the planet. Here are five eco-friendly innovations that could change the way you think about a "final resting place."

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1. Aquamation

For environmentally conscious people starting to think about end-of-life planning, the advantages of traditional cremation may be negated by the resulting carbon emissions. Aquamation is a relatively new kind of final disposition that, like cremation, results in biodegradable “ashes” returned to the family, but yields them through an environmentally clean chemical process that is essentially a sped-up version of natural decomposition. Also known as biocremation or flameless cremation, aquamation uses water and alkaline compounds to produce a fine dust that, like cremated remains, can be scattered or stored in an urn.


2. Green Burial

As more people begin thinking about the environmental impact of funerals, we're seeing more "green" burials that emphasize an organic return to the earth. “The biggest difference (between green funerals and other funerals) is that we do not embalm the bodies,” said Shari Wolf, founder of Natural Grace Funerals in Los Angeles, California. Instead, she and her team slow the decomposition through refrigeration, then wrap the deceased in a shroud (or another simple, biodegradable container of the family’s choosing) before laying them to rest directly in the earth. Further, natural burial grounds look more like scenic wilderness areas than graveyards, and may even be classified as conservation grounds (wilderness areas preserved through funds from the burials).


3. Tree Burial Pods

"Let's convert cemeteries into forests!" That's the tagline accompanying burial products from Bios. The company crafts biodegradable urns designed to grow remains into trees (a variety of trees can be used, allowing you to select one that has special meaning to grow as a living memorial). The Bios Incube is another Bios product that takes things a step further, dispensing water internally according to the type of tree chosen.


4. Mushroom Suit

Coeio's Infinity Burial Suit is a garment that melds fashion and nature. Impregnated with the spores of a specially developed strains of mushrooms, the suit is designed to grow on a deceased body, spurring decomposition. In the process, the suit helps to neutralize environmental toxins such as bisphenol A that may exist in remains. Designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology research fellow Jae Rhim Lee, this “mushroom death suit” was conceived out of her interest in culture’s denial of death, and how that can lead to environmentally unsound funeral practices. Lee explained her idea in a 2011 TED talk:

Coeio Project Manager Claire McNamara weighed in on why people should consider options like the Infinity Burial Suit. "By choosing a green alternative, an individual can continue to care for the earth, even in death," she said. "Choosing to facilitate the return of one's body to nature in death symbolizes an understanding of being a part of nature, not outside of it. Green options are choices to give back to the earth."


5. Biodegradable Urns

Often, the literal scattering of ashes can be impractical. A biodegradable urn allows families to bury their loved one’s remains (or set them into a body of water) in a container that they know will quickly and safely decompose. Biodegradable urns are available in a number of styles and can be personalized. They can be made of paper, fabric, clay, or even salt, and are often quite beautiful.