While you find your happiness in the heaven, the wood, the synthetic cushioning and the metals usually used in traditional coffin - as well as the concrete around reinforced graves - keep on existing on the earth for a long time."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," mentions Jennifer DeBruyen, an Associate Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at the University of Tennessee.
Italian architects Raoul Bretzel and Anna Citelli may have an answer. They call it Capsula Mundi - "world's capsule" in Latin - and it's an egg-formed, natural coffin that is appropriate for ashes, too. Once buried, they state, the biodegradable plastic shell separates and the remaining parts give nutrients to a sapling planted which is planted above it. Bretzel and Citelli firmly beleive that death is as closely related to consumerism as life. Their objective? To make burial grounds loaded with trees as opposed to headstones, diminish waste, and make new life out of death. The idea for the Capsula Mundi came in 2003, when the pair saw huge amounts of furniture destroyed at the end of Milan's popular plan 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 mentioned."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."
The science behind it
The creators are lauching the first ever cersion of their items, which is for ashes only. A later model will be created for bodies, encapsulated in the fetal position. Bacteria in the dirt first separate the bio-plastic, at that point the ashes slowly come into contact with the dirt, without changing its chemical balance too much. While the burial of ashes might be ecologically freindly, cremation has its critics: "It's a very energy-demanding process," says DeBruyen. On top of that, older dental fillings can discharge contaminating mercury, which is the reason some crematoriums have setted up with mercury channels.
Although planting a seed on top of the the Capsula may seem like an intersting idea, Jacqueline Aitkenhead-Peterson, Associate Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, proposes more trees ought to 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.
However, does it really bring any advantage for the environment?
DeBruyen seems to think so: "The problem with traditional burials is that they're completely anaerobic. The remains are buried deep and sealed in a coffin. There's a lot of incomplete degradation.""These pods may help maintain some oxygen flow into the system. The other thing they bring to the whole system is carbon [from the starch-based bioplastic]. One of the constraints and challenges with decomposing a human body is that it's very nitrogen rich. And so, the microbes that are trying to break down all that nitrogen need some carbon to balance it out."
Is it legal though?
"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-confirmation association for the death industry. She links this increment to the baby-boomers' natural awareness and enthusiasm for how their bodies will be disposed. However, is it lawful? "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.
With another place, it could be a different story: "In Italy, for example, this type of burial would not be allowed," mentions 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."