Death: The Sustainable Options

So, you’re dead now.

That’s fun.

You wanted to be remembered as the thoughtful progressive, eco-warrior, 100% vegan leather, Instagram model type you aspired to be rather than the shameful post-all-night-bender-kebab-eating FOMO-suffering paranoid type that you were.

You didn’t want to run the risk of awkwardly discovering there was an afterlife after all, and embarrassingly having to introduce yourself to everyone as the person whose cremated greenhouse emissions were responsible for killing the world’s last polar bear. Then there’s the added risk of bumping into the bear itself.

Further to that; you didn’t want to identify as one of those “mainstream” types in case you also had to face all your trendy friends’ post mortem.

So, you picked an environmentally friendly burial option.

Good for you! I see it’s working out nicely; you’ve got Wi-Fi, science blogs to read, plenty of historical figures to chat to and no polar bears present by your hand. Now, where did you put that never-ending packet of Tim Tams?

Zero regrets. Source: Flickr
Zero regrets. Source: Flickr

For the rest of us slowly expiring beings, can we borrow the menu you picked from?


Let’s see here, Option 1: is to let your body rot. In the absence of cheaper more sustainable alternatives to the classics we can still embrace our ancestor’s attitudes to death. Natural burials are still in the ground but there’s none of this “make her look peaceful with chemicals” or “make sure the other dead people know he’s wealthy by putting some of the help in there with him” phaff. Bodies are buried in a shroud of biodegradable material to allow the breakdown of tissue, then the nutrient rich fluid soaks into the soil and fertilises the surrounding wildlife.

Specific types of shrouds have been invented that are threaded with a breed of mushroom spores that thrive on decay, so as your body decomposes you feed the mushrooms and creates your own ecosystem in an accelerated process. You can have your own circle of life.

Option 2: a new process gaining support that is a more environmentally sound alternative to cremation: resomation. It uses heated water and potassium hydroxide to liquefy your body into sterile nutrient soup that can safely be put back into the ecosystem, but leaves the bones, fillings and any implants untouched. This option lets you grind your bones down, so you can keep gathering dust in your mum’s place.

Always keep your friends close. Source: Flickr
Always keep your friends close. Source: Flickr

Option 3: If you’re really into the idea of giving yourself back to the natural cycles, or if your mum won’t stand for your army of dust-bunnies, you can go a step further. As a compliment to Option 2, a company in Georgia turns bone dust and concrete into Eternal Reefs that are placed in ocean reef restoration projects. Imagine front row seats to watch Finding Nemo at IMAX on repeat for the rest of eternity.

Will you be the eternal landlord for Nemo's first student sharehouse? Source: Flicker
Will you be the eternal landlord for Nemo’s first student sharehouse? Source: Flicker

Option 4: There must be something about marine life that makes people think of dead things, because a marine biologist in Sweden invented Promession as another (really cool) technique for eco-burial. It’s essentially freeze-drying a body in liquid nitrogen, breaking the brittle body apart until all the water is evaporated in a special vacuum chamber, and then putting the powdered remains in a shallow grave where they become compost.

With all these great ideas to help the environment our existence has largely detracted from, it’s any wonder people are still throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at cryonics, mummification and space ejections. Would you rather the entire universe thinks of you as rich space trash, or help give life to a rain forest? (Keep in mind that I am not asking if space is cool – it’s the best – I’m asking if you are cool).

8 Responses to “Death: The Sustainable Options”

  1. Jack Simkin says:

    I remember reading about the carbon footprint of burial techniques – which I think was a crematorium’s way of getting more customers. But still, it’s an interesting way to think about something we all have to deal with eventually!

  2. Mark Dorman says:

    This was such a great post! The beginning roped me in and I was captivated until the end. The only suitable option is obviously the coral reef, because lets face it, the ocean is amazing. Cleverly written in a way that is both entertaining and informative. So good!

  3. Lee says:

    So many different options, who knew? Are they available in Australia? sign me up for option 4

  4. Isabelle says:

    Are these posts supposed to make me laugh so hard? Highly recommend other readers click through some of the, ehem, less educational links, as they browse their afterlife pamphlet.

    Personally, I think I’m going for option 3 – so I can sleep with the fishes.

  5. Ehlana Tompsett says:

    Heather, there are so many cool ways to manage the dead out there, it’s just such a stigmatized topic due to culture and religion that it doesn’t get nearly the research funding or attention it should.
    I’ve definitely read about the ashes-to-crystals, I think that’s just brilliant. There are a couple more interesting options I’ll look into in my next blog post too.

    I like your question about the mourning process. It’s an integral part of people dealing with death and moving on but you’ll generally find that western society is quite sterile and isolated from death. Like if we pretend it’s not real maybe it will leave us alone. And we carry this attitude with our treatment of lost loved ones often as well so in a way we aren’t going through the mourning process or completing it. We’re putting it on hold and bottling it away rather than facing and accepting our feelings of loss in the face of mortality. The western world could certainly learn a lot from how different cultures experience death.

  6. Jennifer Feinstein says:

    Interesting and funny article! I appreciate that you wrote about something people don’t think about very often or at all!

  7. Heather Smillie says:

    Super fascinating blog topic!

    I have thought about how I might like my body to be dealt with when I pass. I’m glad to hear that there are some crazy interesting ways to do it now!

    The other day I actually listened to a Science Friction podcast about how some countries are running out of room for traditional burials, and they’re having to rethink how they do it.

    In one country, the government was promoting cremation and then spreading the ashes in a memorial garden that people could still visit to remember their loved ones.

    Another person had gotten the ashes made into gem stones (I don’t know how exactly?!) and had them made into jewellery for the family!

    It seemed like the biggest thing was that people still culturally and personally needed an actual place to go and visit to remember their loved ones. If you were just turned into a reef or liquefied into nothing, I wonder how that would effect the mourning process for your family and friends?

  8. Jasmin says:

    Wow how cool! I never knew about any of these options. I’ve always thought that rotting in a box underground is pretty horrible for lots of reasons. Have you ever heard of being planted with a tree in a rainforest? I think that’s how I want to spend my afterlife.

    Interesting read!