- There might be life after death, even if it’s in the form of mushrooms
It’s pretty safe to say that, in general, we as humans like to live long and prosper. To that end, we’re constantly developing new and innovative ways to stave off our eventual demise.
We’re pretty good at it, too. The average life expectancy is rising pretty much all around the world. It’s thanks to leaps in medical science, availability of better food, and other more esoteric technological advances – like robots that care for the elderly.
But despite all our rage against the dying of the light, the rules to the great game of life say that eventually it must end. Not to be morbid or anything, but’s that just how it goes – we’re all going to die.
Here’s where we’re running into a bit of an issue. With the constantly growing human population, there are more living people than ever on planet Earth.
The problem arises when the masses of living people become dead people. While ways to dispose of the deceased vary between cultures, by far the most popular method is a good old-fashioned burial.
Unfortunately, that’s also the most inefficient method. Many places in the world are running out of burial space, as reported by the BBC already back in 2015.
To cope with the problem, cemeteries have started coming with their own ways to deal with the issue. For example, in Israel graveyards have started digging multi-story burial tunnels, while in Spain and Greece bodies are moved to communal graves once they have decomposed sufficiently.
It’s a bit of a conundrum, really. The dead should be able to rest in peace, but at the same time, they take up way too much space.
If only the dead could decompose with dignity, and maybe even help the planet while they’re at it…
Looking plump today, grandpa.
Ashes to Plants, Dust to Mushrooms
Well, there are ways to do that. Some of them are already pretty well known, like pressing your cremated ashes into diamonds.
But now Dutch biotech company Loop has taken a further step in cultivating the Circle of Life. With their invention, a fun guy from life can become literal fungi in death.
The vessel for that grand transformation is called the Living Cocoon. That’s a fancy name for what’s essentially a biodegradable coffin made out of fungus spores, microbes, and plant roots.
The coffin, covered on the inside with soft green moss for a comfortable final rest, is “powered” by mycelium. That is, the underground “roots” of a fungal network. You probably learned about them in elementary school biology.
“Mycelium is nature’s biggest recycler. It is continuously looking for dead organic matter to transform into key nutrients,” Loop’s founder Bob Hendrikx told Vice.
The Living Cocoon offers a corpse an all-natural ticket back into the cycle of life. Once buried, the presence of ground water activates the fungi in the coffin and the decomposition process begins.
According to the Loop team, the coffin itself will biodegrade completely in 35 to 45 days, depositing the corpse and now thriving mushrooms into the ground. Within roughly three years, there will be nothing left but fungus and nutrient-rich soil.
Oh yes, that’s one of the intentional benefits of the Living Cocoon. Your body will pass on and in turn help new life flourish.
“[The coffin] also hosts bacteria and microorganisms that neutralize toxins in both the body and surrounding soil, enabling people to enrich and clean the soil with their own nutrients.
“Your own body will increase biodiversity and allow new seedlings to thrive,” Loop says.
The coffin has already been, uh, test-driven, too. A person was recently buried in it in the Hague.
‘Parasites’ on the Planet
With the Living Cocoon, Hendikx and Loop want to help transform the way we think about cemeteries and burying our dead.
“We have a dream of having super-new natural funeral-based concepts in which we go to different cities and search for the most dirty soil and start cleaning that up,” envisioned Hendrikx.
If Loop would have its way, in the future we would not visit our loved ones in somber graveyards. Instead, we would pay our respects for the dead in lush woodlands teeming with life.
The company’s vision is rooted in a – shall we say – harsh view on the human condition. Loop says that we as people “parasitize” on the plant not only in life, but also in death.
“To be buried, we cut down a tree, work it intensively and try to shut ourselves off as well as possible from microorganisms,” the company says.
“And for those that don’t want to be buried, we waste our nutrient-rich body by burning it with cremation, polluting the air and ignoring the potential of our human body.”
Furthermore, according to Loop, the modern lifestyle causes the human body to continue polluting even beyond the mortal life.
“The average human body contains 219 chemicals that can endanger ecosystems,” the firm claims.
The phrasing might be radical, but they have a point. If we have to decay eventually, we might as well help new life grow while we’re at it.
It’s the circle of life and it moves us all, sang Sir Elton John. Maybe we should be more willing to participate in it.
What do you think? Would you rather take the fungus train or be preserved like the Egyptian pharaohs? Let us know in the comments!