What exactly is death tech?
Good question. What we’re calling death tech is any new technology that is used to dispose of a dead body. Older forms of death technology might be burial or cremation. Death technology of the future includes methods like aquamation and recomposition.
There are a surprising number of designers who are working toward reforming body disposition, internment, and memorialization. This New York Times article introduces you to some of these voices– Mushroom Suits, Biodegradable Urns and Death’s Green Frontier, Some of them are also discussed in our Eco Death Takeover video.
This technology can also include new green products, cemeteries, and memorialization. Here are some examples:
The DeathLab is working on an alternative to cremation and earthen burial, and designing new public spaces of remembrance intertwined with everyday life.
The Santa Coloma de Gramenet cemetery, outside Barcelona, Spain has converted its municipal burial space into a source for renewable energy with solar panels.
The African Burial Ground located in New York, provides an excellent example of memorialization that integrates scholarship, technology, and civic engagement.
With changing lifestyles, lack of space, and environmental concerns numerous countries in Asia have been reimagining their final resting spaces like these columbariums in Japan, and a “library” for cremated remains in South Korea.
Alkaline Hydrolysis aka Water Cremation or Aquamation
Like Cremation, Alkaline Hydrolysis – also known as Green Cremation –
is a method of preparing a dead human body for its final disposition. And like cremation, it’s a process that reduces human remains to bone fragments. But instead of flame, Alkaline Hydrolysis uses water and an alkali solution of potassium hydroxide (KOH) commonly found in household products, which when heated, dissolves the body, leaving behind bone fragments and a sterile liquid. Alkaline hydrolysis is the natural process a body undergoes after burial, which can take up to 25 years. Green Cremation essentially accelerates this natural process to 2-3 hours in a very quiet, controlled environment. via Funeral Consumer Alliance
The process was explained in an early version of Ask a Mortician – Liquefying Bodies, and more recently in this video, in which an aquamation facility for pets is featured and the process is explained in detail.
Founding Order member and Clarity co-owner, Jeff Jorgenson explains how the process has already been in use with pets in Alkaline Hydrolysis – Seattle Style.
Learn why it may well be the future of death care in Why Alkaline Hydrolysis is a Green Alternative.
Recomposition - Natural Organic Reduction
Recomposition, created by Founding Order member Katrina Spade, transforms bodies into soil so our bodies can grow new life after we die.
We are laying the groundwork so that someday, people will be able to choose recomposition instead of cremation or burial. Eventually, we hope there will be places in our cities where we can return our loved ones to the earth naturally. Via Recompose.
But is composting the dead safe? Absolutely, we’ve been doing it with livestock for years.
Recomposition is based on the principles of livestock mortality composting, a process which creates heat which in turn kills common viruses and bacteria. Research into mortality composting of livestock has found that the temperature inside the compost reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is high enough to kill off pathogens. Farmers are using mortality composting in order to safely dispose of their dead livestock, as well as to control odor and runoff. Recompose has fine tuned this process to be appropriate and meaningful for humans in an urban setting.
Listen to Katrina’s TED Talk– Let’s Talk About Human Composting.
After almost a decade of work and dedication, the first Recompose facility opened in Seattle in 2021,with the first operating license granted to green burial ground Herland Forest. You can see a detailed review of the process at Herland here.
You can learn more and sign up on the Recompose website.
The Mushroom Burial Suit and Mushroom Coffins
The Infinity Burial Suit or “Mushroom Burial Suit” was invented by Founding Order member Jae Rhim Lee, who says “The power of the suit is that it creates the need for meaningful planning and discussion around death.”
The Infinity Burial Suit is a handcrafted garment that is worn by the deceased.
The Infinity Burial Suit has a built in biomix, made up of of mushrooms and other microorganisms that together do three things; aid in decomposition, work to neutralize toxins found in the body and transfer nutrients to plant life. via Coeio
View her viral TED Talk on the subject, My Mushroom Burial Suit.
In 2020 another mushroom based product made headlines, a coffin called the Loop Cocoon from the Netherlands. The designers are calling it the “world’s first living coffin,” as it is composed of mycelium and wood chips, with a “bed” of moss, plants and various living microorganisms. The Loop Cocoon has already been used in at least one burial.
In the U.S., designer Shaina Garfield also created a coffin called Leaves, which incorporates mushrooms. Here, the body is wrapped in a cotton shroud, and secured to a wooden plank with woven fibers that contain fungal spores.
While these products claim to aid and accelerate the process of decomposition, their effectiveness is questionable. However, they do carry out designer Jae Rhim Lee’s mission to foster important conversations about death, remembrance, and the environment, as well as help to ignite our imaginations regarding what is possible.
Promession by designer Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak is a conceptual machine that rapidly decomposes a corpse. At this point it is only at the concept/theory stage and is not available for use (hopefully this will change soon). In Kansas in 2019, efforts were made to legalize the option, however progress was halted when Kansas Attorney General discovered that promession does not meet the definition of cremation under Kansas law and regulation. Read more here.
In 2020 we dedicated an entire video to the concept of Promession and its progress so far.
Capsula Mundi is an Italian company that has developed a biodegradable egg-shaped burial pods that replace the casket.
While not significantly different than natural burial, the designers created the pods in response to Italian laws that have made make un-casketed burial difficult. This product is currently just a concept and is not actually available.
Learn more about The Biodegradable Burial Pod That Turns Your Body into a Tree.
Bios Urn - Can Cremated Remains Become a Tree?
“I want to be a tree when I die!” — we’ve heard your enthusiastic vision for your future corpse, but can this really be done with ashes?
One of the most popular products in recent years is the Bios Urn— a biodegradable urn which is “designed to transform the ashes of your Loved One into a living, growing tree.” Capsula Mundi, the company that came up with the burial pod concept, offers their own version, the Capsula Mundi biodegradable urn.
While we love this idea, cremated remains aren’t really compatible with the micronutrients and environment necessary to facilitate healthy soil and plant growth. Some companies claim to have specially prepared the soil to counteract the harmful properties of the ashes, or include a protective container or filter, which keeps the ashes separate. This article, Are Cremation Ashes Good For Plants? explains the various issues of planting with cremation ashes.
The Bios Urn company also offers the Bios Incube, which allows you to grow a tree seedling in a pot you can keep at home, all while monitoring it via an app.
Where Can I Find Eco-Friendly Product Options?
You asked for it, and we responded. Here are some sources for eco-friendly products–from biodegradable urns, to the highly requested “just put me in a pine box” box, to DIY coffins and shrouds.
Mary Lauren Fraser (woven fiber caskets and urns)
Passages (also carries biodegradable urns)
Mourning Dove Studio (also carries cardboard coffins)
So, you wanna build a casket? DIY and Coffin Building Workshops
Last Things (Maine)
Kiri (tree/plant urns for people & pets)