CHANNELS    |    Behavior Change      Leadership      Products & Design      Supply Chain      Marketing & Comms      New Metrics    |    MORE

How to Live Forever (Or 8 Cool Ways to Upcycle Yourself)

The Infinity Mushroom Death Suit in action | Image credit: The Infinity Burial Project

"Every man dies. Not every man really lives." — William Wallace, Braveheart

Nobody really wants to think about their own mortality, but the cold truth is that sooner or later, it’s going to happen. Now, your personal beliefs on whether or not you will ascend to Heaven, reincarnate, or simply just be dead don’t really matter; you’re going to leave a body behind when you go. It has now become a custom to either pump dead bodies full of formaldehyde and seal them into a steel and concrete vault or be cremated and have the ashes just sit in an urn.

An increasing number of people are choosing to do more with their bodies after they are gone in an effort to be more eco-friendly, help advance scientific knowledge, or do something awesome that couldn’t be achieved in life. 

Here are some of the coolest science-friendly options available:

If you want to be buried

Decomposable coffin: Burial is pretty much the standard way that most humans have been burying each other for at least 130,000 years. As the body decomposes, it can release nutrients to the soil. Modern caskets and vaults deny this opportunity. For those who would like to carry on the tradition of being laid to rest after death, there are a variety of eco-friendly options. 

While some prefer a plain pine box, there are also attractive biodegradable options made from paper, cardboard and wicker. Some cemeteries have restrictions on the type of vessel and shrouds the deceased can be buried in, so that is something to consider ahead of time.

Mushroom food: In order to expedite your body’s decomposition, you may want to invest in the Infinity Burial Suit. The death suit has mushroom spores embroidered into the fabric. An alternative embalming fluid is used after death, which helps facilitate mushroom growth. Not only does this have the benefits of biodegradable coffins, but it actually takes it a step further by purifying the soil from the toxins already in your body: As the body decomposes, the mushrooms take up the preservatives, mercury, lead and other toxins that have accumulated over a lifetime. Those toxins then become fixed in the mushroom and are not left to pollute the soil. In 2011, the suit’s inventor Jae Rhim Lee gave a TED Talk and explained the suit in detail.

If you want to be cremated

Biodegradable urns: For those who prefer to be cremated but don’t want to end up in some ornate urn on a mantel (before ultimately getting knocked over and vacuumed up at some point), the ashes can be buried. While there are many options for biodegradable urns for water or ground burials, some places have restrictions on where ashes can be spread.

Urna Bios has become the premier company for turning ashes into memorial trees or plants. The urns are made from coconut shell and contain compacted peat and cellulose. The ashes are mixed with this, and a seed is placed inside.When buried, the tree seed is nourished by and absorbs the nutrients from the ashes. You can even choose which type of tree you'd like to grow!

The urns do not have an expiration date, so they can be purchased well ahead of time and saved for when they are needed. Any type of seed is compatible to be planted, so you can choose a tree seed native to the area to ensure its best growth.

Save the oceans: Due to many factors including pollution and climate change, the world’s oceans are losing coral reefs at an alarming rate. Considering reefs are incredible sources of marine biodiversity, this is fairly problematic. Those who were an advocate for sea conservation in life can physically help rebuild reefs in death.

Eternal Reefs combines a person’s ashes with concrete and is molded into a shape that mimics the natural growth pattern of a reef. Additional concrete is added and family members can add handprints, write messages, or embed keepsakes such as a plaque or military medals. Family members can be involved with as much or as little of the process as they would like, from the initial casting to placing it in the water.

Diamonds are forever: Using only eight ounces of ash remains, LifeGem will use you or your loved one as the carbon source for a lab-created diamond, which can then be integrated into jewelry. This also works with those who are to be buried, as locks of hair can also be used to source the carbon (which is extremely cool, since it means you can also do this when you are alive). Stones can range from 0.20 carats to over 1.50. 

To create the diamond, the sample is subjected to extreme heat, which converts all of the carbon into graphite. The graphite is then placed into an individually numbered crucible that is heated to 3000 degrees Celsius. Next, it is subjected to extreme heat and pressure that is about 1,000,000 p.s.i. in order to press it into its rough shape. After the diamond is done, the facets are cut into the gem, which is then  nspected, graded, and identified.

We are all stardust: All of the elements in our bodies were originally forged in stars, so why not go back and pay them a visit after you’re dead? It is now possible to have ashes launched into space where they will drift forever among the cosmos. If such a permanent and distant farewell isn’t desired, it is possible to send the ashes up and have them return to Earth.

James Doohan, the actor who portrayed Scotty in the original "Star Trek" series, had his ashes scattered into space in 2012. Some of the remains of Clyde W. Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto, were sent on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft and are destined to encounter the dwarf planet in addition to other Kuiper Belt objects.

Pushing up daisies: For those looking to supply nutrients to the soil but don’t want to be cremated, Sweden-based Promessa Organic uses liquid nitrogen, which does not have any known environmental concerns, to convert the human remains into fertilizer. 

The body is frozen to -18 degrees Celsius and then dipped into the liquid nitrogen. Once the remains are solid and very brittle, sound waves are used to shatter the body and create a fine powder. Any metal pieces such as shrapnel, surgical pins, or dental fillings are removed and will not be in the final product. The powder is put into a vessel that is made out of cornstarch where it can be buried just below the surface of the soil and will become part of the grass, bush, or tree that it is planted near.

Other alternatives

Burial for the birds: Sky burials are performed by some Buddhists living in Tibet and Mongolia. The soil in the region is too hard to dig a grave, and the resources required to make a wooden casket just aren’t worth it, as most of Tibet does not have trees.

While there can be elaborate spiritual rituals involved with how the body is prepared, some people are just as happy to place the body on a rock where it will decompose or be consumed by vultures. When only the bones remain, they are hammered into a powder and mixed together with tsampa (roasted barley flour) and butter. This mixture is now given to the crows and hawks who had to wait while the vultures consumed the meat.

This post first appeared on the IFLS blog on March 24, 2014.

To learn more about innovative ways companies worldwide are turning waste into resources, check out the #WasteNot editorial channel.
For more examples of #startups increasing social and environmental sustainability through disruptive innovation, check out the editorial channel.

Lisa is a soccer mom, Air Force wife and writer for IFLScience.

[Read more about Lisa Winter]


LATEST NEWS FROM OUR MEMBERS