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After months of testing, the first funeral has taken place in the Netherlands using a fast-composting “living coffin” made of mycelium, the mat of fibres that forms the underground part of fungi.
“I didn’t actually go, but I talked to a relative beforehand – it was a moving moment, we discussed the cycle of life,” Bob Hendrikx, the founder of Loop, the startup producing the Living Cocoon, told the Metro newspaper.
“He had lost his mother, but he was happy because thanks to this box, she will return to nature and will soon be living like a tree. It was a hopeful conversation.”
Hendrikx, a 26-year-old biodesigner who studied at the Technical University of Delft, told local media that the Living Cocoon allowed “people to become one with nature again. We can enrich the soil instead of polluting it.”
Mycelium is “nature’s recycler”, Hendrikx said. Not only does it neutralise toxins and provide fresh food to everything growing above ground, but its fibres can be used to make anything from food to clothes and packaging – including coffins.
“Mycelium is constantly looking for waste products – oil, plastic, metals, other pollutants – and converting them into nutrients for the environment,” he said. “This coffin means we actually feed the earth with our bodies. We are nutrients, not waste.”
Hendrikx said the process by which a human body in a traditional coffin becomes compost can often take a decade or more, slowed by the varnished wood and metals of the casket and synthetic clothing, which can take even longer to disintegrate.
A mycelium coffin will be absorbed back into the soil within a month or six weeks, he said, actively contributing to the full decomposition of the body it contains and enriching the surrounding soil quality – all within a period of two to three years.
Loop is working with scientists to measure the impact of human bodies on soil quality, with a view, Hendrikx said, to “convincing policymakers to convert polluted areas into healthy forests – with our bodies as nutrients”.
Working in collaboration with two funeral cooperatives in The Hague, the startup has made 10 coffins at a cost of about €1,250 (£1,150) each. It expects the price to fall significantly as production intensifies and, Hendrikx hopes, mycelium caskets become “a new normal”.
Each Living Cocoon takes several weeks to form as the mycelium mat grows in the shape of a coffin and is then allowed to dry naturally. As soon as it is exposed to damp soil again it comes back to life and begins the decomposition process.
A Living Cocoon fungi coffin made by Dutch startup Loop costs about €1,250. Photograph: Loop
Isn't this an expensive way to put the facade of a "normal" coffin on something that expresses a completely different conception of life and death? A coffin performs these functions I can think of:
Perpetuates the illusion of the deceased's body continuing in some kind of "protected" state.
Shields funeral attendees from having to actually see the deceased's body.
Provides a mechanical structure that can be lowered into the grave.
All of the above could be accomplished with a fabric shroud over the body and a plank underneath. Making a plank out of mycelium (if mycelium is what you want) would be much cheaper than making a coffin with a lid.
Completely separate thought: Could the relatives pick a mycelium species that's appropriate to the deceased's life story?
And that would be completely illegal in many jurisdictions. And where laws don't exist it's because they have never needed to legislate it, direct internment on a mass scale could lead to all sorts of issues.
There are sometimes laws surrounding human burial because it can potentially release pathogens and affect soil quality of the surrounding environment. And even when there are no laws, cemeteries have rules preventing direct internment.
While direct internment isn't widely outlawed, its basically only an option for home burials(which are not legal everywhere), the laws concerning handling human remains are pretty universal. Human remains must either be disposed of or preserved within 24 hours.
Burying embalmed corpses directly in the earth is hardly environmentally friendly. And preservation with cold can either be expensive or not logistically feasible.
As much as you might want to, I dont see just throwing corpses in a hole ever catching on, even when it is legal do you really see normal people ever using this option??? The mycelium coffin is completely and totally necessary to ensure the decomposition process happens safely and quickly, makes it more palatable for those looking for a traditional funeral experience or changing policy to approve their use.
This is probably the only chance most have at an environmentally friendly way of dealing with one's own burial legally and safely, let alone easily or affordably. Cremation is better than traditional burial, but it isn't exactly environmentally friendly itself.
And are you really complaining about a €1,250 coffin costing too much? When the price will be even lower once it is scaled up. Do you have any idea what normal coffins cost? Or when cremation(the greenest currently available option) can cost you 3-5x that.
Personally, I am a fan of alkaline hydrolysis, when my grandma died she donated her body to a medical school(and when I go I'll do the same) so I imagine thats what happened to her but right now commercial AH sans getting cut on by med students isn't available everywhere. But, I understand that most people still want a traditional funeral/burial experience and that home burial is rarely feasible. This is a solution to for that, and it's already more affordable than the status quo and should be cheaper in the future. Don't see a lot to complain about.