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‘Burial Pods’ Break Down Organically To Minimize Waste And Help Grow Trees

by Penn Collins

July 17, 2017

Saying goodbye to a loved one can be a taxing process, but a traditional burial can be burdensome for the environment as well. The materials used in coffins, headstones, and subterranean concrete structures are slow to break down, monopolizing land that could be used for more altruistic purposes. As the world’s population continues to climb, the space traditional plots occupy will take an increased toll on land management with no discernible benefit to anyone.

With a new alternative in mind, Raoul Bretzel and Anna Citelli, both Italian designers, have created Capsula Mundi (“world’s capsule”), a product that marries the sustainability of cremation with the desire for traditional burial. The capsule itself consists of organic materials that are ultimately broken down by bacteria in the soil. When the shell breaks down in the first year after burial, the ashes are released into the ground, enriching the soil for future vegetative growth. This benefit is not seen in traditional casket burials, as the anaerobic processes in the caskets are contained within long after burial.

A developed tree could then be planted atop the Capsula Mundi to capture the nutrition from the enriched soil when the ashes or remains are released into the earth. 

The pods are available for purchase now, but the legality of their use depends on the location of the burial. Kate Kalanick of the Green Burial Council, speaking to CNN, said they’re allowed as they exist today in North America. “We really don't have any governmental or legislative push back in the US or in Canada in regards to green burials," she said. 

Nonetheless, the road to common adoption proves to be difficult. Consumers often choose not to think about death if given the opportunity, and for that reason, tradition trumps innovation in many instances. However, Kalanick says the public perception of green burials is evolving. "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."

Further, cremation itself has faced criticism for being an extraordinarily energy-intensive process that may offset many of its benefits — at least in the mind of consumers — that Capsula Mundi has to offer. Addressing that concern, the creators are developing a version that houses an intact human body in the fetal position for later release. 

Share image via Capsula Mundi/Facebook.

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