Dying to be green: Are mushroom coffins the secret to an eco-friendly death?

Dutch inventor Bob Hendrikx is harnessing the power of fungi by using mycelium – giant spider webs of mycelium that normally live underground – to replace traditional wooden coffins. His eco-friendly “living coffin”, he says, is not only carbon-negative to grow, but also decomposes in six weeks, instead of the 20 years it might take for a conventional wooden coffin. The coffin also has the effect of decomposing the body, speeding up the natural process that can absorb nutrients of the deceased.

Hendrikx Loop’s company isn’t the first to board an eco hearse on its own. Cremated human remains can be placed in shells for planting or molded into artificial reefs, while coffins made of wicker, macramé and cardboard are commercially available. Forest burial sites, where coffins and clothing are made from all-natural materials, are also on the rise. And when actor Luke Perry died in 2019, he was buried in a “mushroom suit” designed to help decompose his body. But using mycelium to wrap bodies in “living coffins” is a novel approach.

The motive is simple: some funeral customs are bad for the environment. In the US alone, more than 4 million gallons of embalming fluid are used each year for burials, according to the nonprofit Green Funeral Council. Soaking solution contains toxic ingredients such as formaldehyde, which can seep into the ground.

Cremation has its own problems, releasing significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and possibly heavy metals if present in the body (the US Environmental Protection Agency calculates that nearly 2 tons of mercury, found in found in dental fillings, which were released from human cremation in 2014).

“What really frustrates me is that when I die, I’m polluting the Earth,” said Hendrikx. “What a waste I am.” He described the body as a “trash bin containing 219 chemicals” even before including the metal, wood and glue commonly used in the coffin.

“Our current landfilling processes lead to material depletion, soil pollution and CO2 emissions,” he added. “We’ve created a super-industrial process for one of the most natural processes on Earth.”

But with proper treatment, the body becomes “a beautiful poop bag.” Mushrooms are “dubbed the world’s largest recycler,” says Hendrikx, turning dead organic matter into new plant life. “Why don’t we use this?”

& Quot;  Live cocoon

Loop’s “living cocoon” consists of mycelium, wood chips and secret ingredients grown in a lab, placed in a mold and grown into a coffin shape over the course of a week. Once completed, the moss – filled with microorganisms – is packed in the bottom, where the stem is located. When the structure comes into contact with moist soil, the mycelium lives and the process begins.

Loop has partnered with biomaterials pioneers Ecological to test the product, which Hendrikx says will break down in 45 days. “It doesn’t go away,” he adds, “because then it works on your body.” He said calculations made by Loop with expert input suggest that a corpse will completely decompose within two to three years.
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The coffin, made in Delft, is on sale for €1,495 ($1,700). Joerg Vieweg, owner of funeral homes in Germany, is one of Hendrikx’s clients. Vieweg says that the mycelium coffin is “a prime example of how to achieve something ecologically with little change in the parting tradition.”

“(It) did not fundamentally change the process and tradition (preparing the body for burial),” he added, which makes burial in mycelium coffin more socially acceptable.

Hendrikx says there have been about 100 burials with Living Cocoon so far in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. He said the laws in some European countries favor coffins more than others. “It’s a super conservative market,” he added, “just like it used to be.”

Heidi van Haastert, branch manager of BGN, the country’s association for funeral companies.

“The challenge now is how can we convince families to hold a sustainable funeral?” she added. “Consumers aren’t aware of[sustainable funeral options]because the problem is how many funerals do you have? There’s only once or twice in your life that you’re responsible.”

Coffins have been used for funerals in many European countries.

Van Haastert said funeral companies in the Netherlands are now training their staff to discuss climate-neutral options with bereavement and she hopes the new legislative guidelines will be applied. used for alternative funerals.

While she describes Loop’s product as “proper” right now, she speculates that “within five years (people) will be asking for more of these types of coffins.”

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Hendrikx believes it has found a positive solution, and as the Loop looks to expand, it aims to create coffins using local samples of mushrooms to their final destination to ensure they have optimal environmental impact. “Instead of doing something bad, or less (after death), you can actually do something good,” he said.

Vieweg believes the funeral industry is “facing a tremendous paradigm shift.”

“People are always creative and looking for sustainable solutions to protect our environment,” she said. “Rites that have existed so far will also exist and new ones will develop. To experience the process is exciting and challenging.”


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