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Eco-Friendly After Death -- Part 2

July 28, 2010

Brit Trogen

Science in Seconds Blog Brit Trogen

 

Death is dirty. But there are plenty of bizarre and clever ways to clean up after it in the era of “green funerals.”

A company called Arteus sells cellulose-fiber, eco-friendly coffins. The Green Burial Council suggests giving up embalming. And the Florida-based Great Burial Reef offers to place urns of cremated remains within artificial, concrete pH-balanced reefs at the bottom of the ocean (not sure how that’s “100 percent natural,” or even eco-friendly, but that’s how they’re marketed…) 

But Susanne Wiigh-Masak decided to try something a little different. A Swedish ecologist, she developed a technique for converting human corpses into fertilizer, which is being marketed by the company Promessa. The technique is appealing in its simplicity: a body is immersed in liquid nitrogen and then shattered into a fine dust using ultrasound waves. The dust is placed in a container that biodegrades within six months, and can then be used as a fertilizer to grow a memorial shrub.

Of course, this is still a much higher energy demand than just leaving a body out to decompose a la the compost-your-corpse movement.

But speaking of memorial shrubs, while not at all eco-friendly, though certainly unconventional, Biopresence offers to create a “transgenic tombstone” in the form of a Human DNA tree to commemorate your loved one. Let’s play spot-the-bad-science on this one! Marketed as an art venture, this technique involves “transcoding the essence of a human being within the DNA of a tree” using “naturally occurring silent mutations of base triplets.” Check out the website if you want to learn more. I’m sure anti-GMers will have a field day with that one…

But this venture got to me. The business of death is something that should really make us stop and think. These companies make their profits from those who are at their most vulnerable (and least rational), and they can very easily abuse their consumer base, whether by charging exorbitant rates for coffins, or convincing them to turn a former loved one into a diamond.

When science gets pulled in it’s even more troubling… And the eco-movement, while admirable for environmental reasons, has me a little worried. Is anybody else reminded of the alternative medicine industry? Lots of marketing, questionable results...

For now, my rule is, check the price tag.

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