A question was posed to me on Twitter over the weekend that touched on a similar topic discussed on a podcast I listened to earlier this week. Both compelled me to take another look at a couple of popular green funeral products and their validity. The two products that were brought up in these conversations were the Capsula Mundi pod and the Mushroom Burial Suit. The claim on both Twitter and the podcast was that our bodies will harm the earth if put in the dirt by themselves (“raw” as someone put it, which has a familiar ring to it...)
My assumption is that they think this because of the chemicals we harbor from medicines, cosmetics, GMo foods, diseases, implants, etc. That’s not an illogical conclusion but it is largely unsubstantiated. Soil science shows that any chemicals buried with us are broken down by the microbes in the soil and rendered harmless.
An article published in The Guardian in 2015 examined several forensics studies on the effects of decay from Sam Houston State University, Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science facility, Alabama State University and a 2012 study that looked at the body decomposition effect on soil chemistry. The article concluded that:
"Initially, some of the underlying and surrounding vegetation dies off, possibly because of nitrogen toxicity, or because of antibiotics found in the body, which are secreted by insect larvae as they feed on the flesh.
Ultimately, though, decomposition is beneficial for the ecosystem – the microbial biomass within the cadaver decomposition island is greater than in other nearby areas; nematode worms also become more abundant, and plant life more diverse."
Decomposition is nature’s job and it performs it quite well. Are we more poisonous than we were 50, 100 years ago? Probably, but I am not sure that means we are a threat to the earth. I don’t think we’d be thriving if we carried that around in us. Regardless, everything I read expressed a need for more research to be done. Hopefully, it will be!
When it comes to the products, the claim is that they can enhance this decomposition either by removing the harmful toxins we bury with us (Mushroom Suit) or making it more aesthetically pleasing (Capsula Mundi). As of today, more information is needed.
Even so, while I am an advocate of truly natural burial - no embalming or caskets - I do see the value both of these products have. One is that most cemeteries have a regulation that requires an ‘outer burial container’ ie. a casket. Both of these are environmentally safe products that satisfy that rule. The other is that they serve as a catalyst for getting people a step closer to planning a more sustainable funeral. At this stage in capitalism, we emote through our consumption. If beautifully designed, well-thought out burial products get you to talk about green burial, so be it.