Become a Tree with a biodegradable burial pod for your body

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The Capsula Mundi project by designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel has developed an organic, biodegradable burial capsule that will turn the deceased’s body into nutrients for a tree that will grow out of their remains.

Capsula Mundi — “world’s capsule” in Latin — is an egg-shaped, organic casket, where after being encapsulated in the fetal position, the deceased is buried and either a tree or tree seed is planted above their capsule. The project’s site already has a number of trees

The project is currently only a concept because Italian law forbids such burials. If it were allowed to proceed, however, the project’s aim would be to create entire memorial parks full of trees instead of tombstones. And instead of destroying and burying wood for wooden coffins, we would, at the end of our lives, provide sustenance for new trees instead. And indeed, the idea that our loved ones and descendants could visit our tree, care for it and rest in its shade is truly a comforting one.

organic-burial-pod

While you rest in peace, the wood, the synthetic cushioning and the metals generally used in traditional coffins — as well as the concrete around reinforced graves — continue to litter the earth.

“A lot of energy also goes into producing these materials, which are used for a very short time and then buried. They’re not going to break down very fast,” says Jennifer DeBruyen, an Associate Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at the University of Tennessee.

 

The idea for the Capsula Mundi came in 2003, when the pair saw tons of furniture trashed at the end of Milan’s famous design fair, “Salone del Mobile.”

“It was a big competition to design new things, but almost nobody cared about future impact or whether anyone would actually use these things”, Bretzel said.

“We started thinking about projects that could have an environmental aspect. Death is part of our life but at design fairs nobody cares about that because it’s one side of our life that we don’t want to look at. We don’t like to think of death as part of life.”

Once buried, they say, the biodegradable plastic shell breaks down and the remains provide nutrients to a sapling planted right above it.
Bretzel and Citelli believe that death is as closely related to consumerism as life. Their goal? To create cemeteries full of trees rather than tombstones, reduce waste, and create new life out of death.

 

organic pod for ashes

The designers are launching the first version of their product, which is for ashes only. A later model will be suitable for bodies, to be encapsulated in the fetal position.

Bacteria in the soil first break down the bio-plastic, then the ashes gradually come into contact with the soil, without changing its chemical balance too dramatically.

While the burial of ashes may be environmentally friendly, cremation has its critics: “It’s a very energy-demanding process,” says DeBruyen.

On top of that, older dental fillings can release polluting mercury, which is why some crematoriums have installed mercury filters.

Although sowing a seed on top of the Capsula may sound like an attractive concept, Jacqueline Aitkenhead-Peterson, Associate Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, suggests more mature trees should be used.

“Because the body will purge within a year in a buried environment, the nutrients are released into the soil quite quickly, so a decently sized tree planted on top would be key. Capturing these nutrients is also important to protect groundwater,” she said.

Although sowing a seed on top of the Capsula may sound like an attractive concept, Jacqueline Aitkenhead-Peterson, Associate Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, suggests more mature trees should be used.

 

organic burial pods

“Because the body will purge within a year in a buried environment, the nutrients are released into the soil quite quickly, so a decently sized tree planted on top would be key. Capturing these nutrients is also important to protect groundwater,” she said.

“I think there’s enough science and agreement that these [options] represent a really viable option for afterlife”, adds DeBruyen.

As scientific research supports green solutions such as the Capsula Mundi, environmental awareness is also breaking down cultural barriers around burials.

“We’ve noticed an uptick in the public interest in green burials in the last 24 months. Although our providers continued to grow steadily, the public has become much more aware and there is a lot more interest in the practice”, says Kate Kalanick, from the Green Burial Council, North America’s eco-certification organization for the death industry.

She links this increase to the baby-boomers’ environmental awareness and interest in how their bodies will be disposed.

But is it legal? “It’s legal in the whole of North America. We really don’t have any governmental or legislative push back in the US or in Canada in regards to green burials,” says Kalanick.

Elsewhere, it could be a different story: “In Italy, for example, this type of burial would not be allowed,” says Bretzel.

“We’re collecting signatures for a petition to make it legal. But I know that it will be a long way before we can change the rules.”

 

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