7 Eco-Friendly Options for Your Body After Death

iStock
iStock

You drive a hybrid. You eat local. You recycle. But odds are your deathcare choices won’t reflect this eco-friendly lifestyle. Though it’s not likely to be discussed at a funeral, the popular methods of body disposal—traditional burial and cremation—both pose major environmental hazards.

According to the Natural Death Centre, a single cremation uses about as much gas and electricity as a 500-mile road trip. The process also emits around 250 pounds of carbon dioxide, as much as the average American home produces in about six days.

Traditional burial is arguably worse from an environmental perspective: Casket burials and the associated materials use 100,000 tons of steel and 1.5 million tons of concrete each year, as well as some 77,000 trees and 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid. There is also worry that some of that carcinogenic embalming fluid eventually leaks into the earth, polluting water and soil.

Historically speaking, the only after-death options available were natural ones, but those fell out of favor in the United States with the rise of the industrial age, embalming, and the professionalization of funeral director as a career. In recent years, natural interment has made a comeback, with promises to protect the planet and pocketbook alike—green burial also happens to be more affordable, on the whole.

Here are seven eco-friendly ways to make your last act on earth a kind one.

1. THE MUSHROOM BURIAL SUIT

Humans love eating mushrooms. Coeico founder and creator of the mushroom burial suit Jae Rhim Lee wants it the other way around. She’s created a pair of head-to-toe “ninja pajamas” lined with special mushroom spores to suit—and eventually consume—a dead body. The mushrooms, she says, are specially trained to devour dead human tissue.

The human body is filled with toxins that can be returned to the atmosphere in cremation and other forms of body disposal. Mushrooms have a knack for absorbing and purifying such toxins—a process known as mycoremediation—leaving the earth cleaner than they found it. Once the tissue is broken down, according to Lee, the mushrooms transmit the nutrients from the body to an intricate network of fungi in the soil that passes the sustenance on to trees. That means your last act could be feeding the forest with your now-purified remains. It’s an appealing thought for the green at heart, even though “eaten by mushrooms” may not be exactly how they pictured going out.

2. AQUAMATION

The slightly wavy surface of blue water
iStock

With aquamation—also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis—the body is placed in a stainless steel vessel filled with a solution of 95 percent water and 5 percent potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. A combination of rushing alkaline waters and temperatures around 350°F causes the body to dissolve in essentially the same process that happens to a body left on the earth or in a stream—only what would take months in nature takes about 20 hours in an aquamation pod. By the end, all that’s left is the skeleton, or parts thereof, which is ground up into a white powder with a pearly sheen. The remains are given to the loved ones, who may choose to scatter them like ashes or place them in a biodegradable urn. Advocates say the process emits about a fifth of the carbon dioxide of traditional cremation. Aquamation was legalized in California in late 2017, joining 14 other U.S. states and three Canadian provinces.

3. BODY FARMS

In the early 1970s, anthropologist William Bass wanted to study how bodies decompose naturally. Using donated cadavers, he created a “farm” for forensic anthropologists to study a wide array of body decomposition scenarios. What does it look like if a body rots in a swamp? If it’s eaten by maggots? Crows? Welcome to the body farm, where disturbing dreams come true.

Texas lays claim to the largest body farm in the U.S., located on Freeman Ranch at Texas State University. The body farm is responsible for massive developments in criminal science and thanatology (the study of death); it’s aided in critical discoveries including the “microbial clock”—a process by which time of death can be precisely identified by examining the posthumous microbiome.

Needless to say, the body farm is a huge win for detectives and scientists alike. People can donate their bodies to a local body farm to further research (and save a good chunk of change on interment). There are seven currently operating in the United States, with more planned soon.

4. SKY BURIAL

A vulture flying near a sky burial site in Tibet
Lyle Vincent, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In Tibet and other areas nearby, Buddhists practice a death ritual meant to encourage good karma. They take bodies to charnel grounds where vultures come to eat the flesh, offering back to the world what was taken in life: meat. It's believed that the practice encourages the dead to move along to the next life without being held back by one’s greatest attachment—their physical body. Ritual aside, it’s a practical answer due to the scarcity of wood and usable burial grounds (the rocky earth makes it hard to dig).

5. GREEN BURIAL

For those who would prefer not to be consumed by vulture nor spore, there’s a more traditional option. Green burial looks pretty much like a normal burial, accept for a few important differences. No embalming fluids or toxic chemicals of any kind can be used. The grave is often dug by hand (either by the green burial ground staff or, if they choose, the loved ones themselves). There is no cement plot. Only biodegradable caskets, such as wicker ones, can be used, or the body is simply placed in an unbleached cloth shroud. This allows the corpse to decompose naturally, returning its sustenance to the Earth. Many green burial grounds also act as wildlife refuges, creating safe spaces for animals and native plant life—families can choose from a variety of live, wild grasses and flowers to adorn the grave.

Aside from being environmentally friendly, this is a cheaper option than traditional burial considering the price tags on caskets, embalming, etc. While prices around the country vary, according to Undertaking LA—a mortuary that promotes green burial—the average funeral in Los Angeles is over $8000 not including the burial plot, whereas they offer green burial for under $7000 including the plot itself.

6. SEA BURIAL

Neil Armstrong's widow being presented with the U.S. flag during the astronaut's burial at sea
Neil Armstrong's widow being presented with the U.S. flag during the astronaut's burial at sea
NASA HQ PHOTO, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Following in the tradition of Vikings, naval officers, and pirates alike, those who loved the ocean in life can return in death with a sea burial. In addition to the countless water-soluble urns on the market, an entire body can be set to sea in designated areas off the U.S. coast. Though some burials involve dropping an entire modified casket to the ocean floor, environmentally inclined businesses like New England Burials at Sea offer more eco-friendly (and affordable) options such as natural burial shrouds hand-sewn by New England sail makers. A full day charter takes your funeral party out to sea, facilitating the open or closed casket service before dropping the body. Companies such as Eternal Reefs can also mix cremated remains with environmentally friendly concrete to create artificial reefs that support marine life. Not everyone would want to sleep with the fishes, but many sailors consider it the most sacred of exits.

7. RECOMPOSING

A maple leaf on a background of compost
iStock

Body composting, or recomposition, could be the future of green burial—at least once it’s legal. Seattle-based architecture grad Katrina Spade got a lightbulb idea in 2012: Could she create a space and method for returning bodies to the earth naturally, sans concrete, steel, and carcinogens? The answer came in the form of human composting, the process of transforming bodies into soil, naturally.

Farmers have practiced livestock composting for decades. Wood chips and moisture and breeze combine to expedite the natural process of decay into nutrient-rich soil. Spade has begun a pilot project at Washington State University with bodies pledged by elderly and terminally ill fans of her cause.

If and when human composting is legalized, the Urban Death Project dreams of a brick-and-mortar recomposing facility. Families will ceremonially lower the shrouded corpse into the recomposing vessel and cover it with wood chips as they say goodbye. As soon as 30 days later, they can collect the remains, now transformed into (roughly) a cubic yard of soil, which they could then take home and use in their garden.

BONUS: BOG BODIES

Someone wading through a soggy peat marsh, or bog, in Ireland may be in for a real surprise—a perfectly preserved, if oddly tanned, corpse from another century. Why? The peat in the marsh creates a highly acidic environment that preserves flesh. So, while the alkaline waters of aquamation will dissolve a body post-haste, the acids from the bogs give a pH akin to that of vinegar. This acts like a pickling agent, freezing the body in time—some bog bodies are dated back as far as 8000 BCE. Sphagnan, a polymer produced by decaying sphagnum moss, is largely to thank for this phenomenon because of the way it binds to nitrogen and slows the growth of bacteria. The tannins in the peat act as a brown dye giving the bodies their leathery color. OK, it probably isn’t the next big trend in green burial, but bog mummification has been naturally preserving bodies for centuries sans greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals alike.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

9 Outdoor Accessories for the Perfect Backyard Party

Amazon/OtterBox
Amazon/OtterBox

Hosting the perfect party in the great outdoors doesn't have to involve you moving any further than your own backyard. Whether you’re looking for games to play with friends, chairs to keep you comfortable, or tents to turn your yard into your own personal campsite, check out some of these essential products that will transform your own patch of nature into a true outdoor oasis.

1. Wine Tumbler; $20

Tumblers from Otterbox
OtterBox

These wine tumblers from Otterbox will make your backyard the toast of the summer. Made from 100 percent stainless steel and lined with copper, these 10-ounce cups will keep your wine at the perfect temperature until the last s’more is eaten and the fire is put out. Each tumbler holds two standard wine pours and has a sweat-resistant design so you can leave your coasters inside. And each tumbler is fitted with a press-in lid, keeping your drink secure whether you’re taking a walk or playing a game with friends.

Buy it: Otterbox

2. Wood-Burning Fire Pit; $300

Wood-burning fire pit from Wayfair.
Martha Stewart/Wayfair

This steel wood-burning fire pit is exactly what you need to create a little ambiance once the moon is out and friends and family are ready to unwind with some roasted marshmallows. The pit itself is only a few feet across, so you'll be able to build a cozy fire for a handful of people, and the mesh screen that secures over it will keep the sparks away from you and your party. 

Buy it: Wayfair

3. Kabob Grilling Baskets; $17

Kebob grilling baskets on UncommonGoods.
UncommonGoods

No backyard adventure is complete without a tasty meal, and these kabob grilling baskets will help you spend less time on the grill and more time enjoying the beauty of nature. These baskets can be packed with all the ingredients you could ever want for kabobs, and without wooden skewers involved, you’ll avoid any unwanted splinters in your meal. With the ability to customize each basket, you’ll have the flexibility to create the perfect portable dinner for guests (or just for yourself).

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Beer Caddy; $25

A beer caddy on Amazon.
LEGACY/Amazon

Beer lovers won’t have to worry about foregoing a cold one while spending some time outside. This soft cotton canvas caddy can hold up to six bottles or cans, and it comes with a removable inner divider, so you have the flexibility of mixing and matching different-sized beverages. Its attached bottle opener—which is hooked to the caddy via a retractable cord— can be stowed in a side pocket for quick access, allowing you to open your drinks with ease.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Outdoor Jenga; $119

A large outdoor Jenga game
Jenga/Amazon

Mix up the usual ghost stories and campfire singalongs with this giant game of outdoor Jenga. Fifteen times larger than the size of a standard Jenga game, these extra-large Jenga blocks can stack up to over 5 feet high and are the perfect size for a deck or beach towel. This set comes with a portable bag for all the blocks so you can easily transport the game from one spot in the backyard to another.

Buy it: Amazon

6. and 7. Camping Chair; $30 and Loveseat Camping Chair; $73

A Colman outdoor chair on Amazon.
Coleman/Amazon

If you’re not a fan of sitting on wet grass or getting bugs on your clothes, this camping chair from Coleman will help you kick back in style. The chair has a cushioned seat and back for maximum outdoor comfort, and it also has a built-in four-can cooler pouch to keep cold beverages handy. It even comes with a nifty side pocket for books, magazines, and newspapers.

An outdoor loveseat that's available on Amazon.
Goplus/Amazon

For anyone who hates toting multiple chairs outside, check out this loveseat-style camping chair! Its ergonomic design seats two people with ease, and it’s supported by a rust-resistant steel frame and weather-resistant fabric for withstanding the elements (or just a shower from a nearby sprinkler). Even though it can hold up to 400 pounds of weight, the chair itself weighs only 11 pounds, making it an ideal choice for anyone who wants to avoid making extra trips to the garage for gear.

Buy itAmazon (camping chair); Amazon (loveseat)

8. Camping Hammock; $29-$40

A hammock that's available on Amazon.
Wise Owl Outfitters/Amazon

If you're one to go a bit horizontal toward the end of a party, take a look at this hammock from Wise Owl Outfitters. Made from heavy-duty parachute nylon, this hammock is incredibly durable and can be secured to trees with a simple set of straps. The hammock comes in two different sizes, a twin and a full, so you can choose the size that's right for you. And best of all? The largest one weighs only 26 ounces, making it easy to take comfort on the go.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Magnetic Door House Tent; $172

A magnetic door house tent on Wayfair.
Wayfair

Mosquitos, flies, and other outdoor pests don’t stand a chance against this portable screened-in porch from Wayfair. This outdoor sanctuary is big enough to fit a picnic table (and all of your friends) inside, and it features two magnetic-close front and back doors. This tent even comes with a 10-year warranty, so you can rest easy knowing that it will provide you with backyard adventures—and zero bug bites—for years to come.

Buy it: Wayfair

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.