Burials may never be the same again. Barren burial sites could be ecologically restored with trailblazing technologies.

Treatment of death in western, secular society has become estranged from its religious context and supplanted with a capitalist model. The once holy corpse has undergone a demise in ritual significance and is now buried like waste, only to be unceremoniously disposed of. This practice has distorted our relationship with the natural world and in turn, our understanding of our own mortality. 

However, the emergence of innovations such as Recompose, Coeio and Capsula Mundi could soon reverse this negative trend by reintegrating the body with natural processes to help support biodiversity and return the individual to the cyclical web of the wider ecosystem. 

Rethinking the Death Industry Complex

Dubbed as the ‘New Death Movement’, the drive for greener burials has the potential to radically transform the greyscale, tombstone-littered appearance of traditional cemeteries. What’s more, the push is more than just about pretty aesthetics. This is about rejecting a modern deathcare system that has become de-ritualised, heavily medicalised, and ultimately profit-driven.

At the heart of the contemporary funeral industry lies a complex that produces a disenchanted model of dying. The privatisation of organising a person’s death has created a major commercial enterprise that is bereft of feeling. Grieving is no longer a private, intimate affair. Instead, it has become monopolised by competing funeral companies that have created an industry that is both economically and environmentally exploitative. 

In Last Rites: The Work of the Modern Funeral Director, author Glennys Howarth emphasised this point when he wrote:

‘The once simple and natural act of laying our dead to rest has been transmogrified into a large-scale industrial operation that, like any other manufacturing process, requires the input of vast amounts of energy and raw materials leaving a trail of environmental damage in its wake’.

While coffins may have traditionally been symbolic of a vessel carrying the body from this life into the next, their present ecological strain cannot go ignored. Take casket burials. Every year in the United States alone, these require approximately 30 million feet of hardwood, 2,700 tonnes of copper and bronze, 1,636,000 tonnes of reinforced concrete and 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid. The assumption, therefore, that cremation presents a more environmentally friendly option is far from the truth. A single cremation produces the equivalent fossil fuel energy of a 500-mile car journey. 

Despite the popularity of casket burials and cremation remaining high, the emergence of greener alternatives has the potential to cause a seismic shift within the death industry.

The New Death Movement

The term ‘death positive’ refers to a wider movement that aims to re-envision our approach to death in a more healthy, holistic and sustainable way. Since the late 1990s ecological entrepreneurs and activists have developed new technologies that take a grassroots approach to transforming our stagnant notions of death.

Dr Hannah Rumble, at the University of Bath’s Centre for Death and Society, wrote of the movement as being: ‘a kind of re-enchantment … . Rather than seeing a corpse as yucky and icky and something that needs to be sanitized and hidden away, actually the corpse, in its very decomposition, could be quite useful’. The organic composition of the body has been recognised for its ability to help enrich the soil with important nutrients, making it possible for other plants and animals to flourish. 

Over the last few decades, the range of environmentally conscious body disposition methods has only increased. Numerous options are slowly but surely becoming commercially available. 


In 2020 Katrina Spade founded Recompose, a multi-storey human composting facility located in Kent, Washington State. The facility, aptly named ‘The Green House’, is comprised of ten reusable vessels that offer a gentle transformation of the human body into fertile soil.

Recompose begins with a ‘laying-in’ process where an individual is placed into the core of a recomposition pod and covered with wood chips, alfalfa and straw. The combination of a nitrogen-dense body with such carbon-rich materials initiates a natural composting process via microbes and bacteria. After just six to eight weeks, the soil will be complete and families can use it on trees and plants, or donate it to woodland conservation efforts.  

At $5,500 the Recompose service costs less than the average funeral, which starts from £5,000 if you’re in London or $6,000 plus if you’re US-based . As the company continues to grow in popularity, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes internationally accessible.   


The concept of a mushroom burial suit took the world by storm after Jae Rhim Lee, founder of Coeio, presented the product at her TedTalk in 2011. 

Lee’s Infinity Burial Suit is a handcrafted garment that consists of a unique  biomix of mycorrhizal fungi and other microorganisms that work together to encourage decomposition. In its natural state the body contains 219 toxins, but through a process known as mycoremediation fungal enzymes neutralise these toxins and remediate vital nutrients throughout the soil.

The market price for an Infinity Burial Suit is $1,500, making it a considerably cheaper, nonpolluting, alternative to traditional burial services. For more information and instructions on how to purchase, simply visit the official Coeio website.

Capsula Mundi

‘Life never stops’ is the slogan used by Italian designers Raoul Bretzel and Anna Citelli for their Capsula Mundi product that seeks to reflect the transformative cycle of all living things.

The egg-shaped burial pod is a boundary breaking invention made entirely from organic materials. It works by placing the remains of a loved one inside a capsule which is then buried like a seed in the earth. A tree sapling is then planted above the burial location, taking nutrients from the decomposition process as it grows. The idea is to transform cemeteries into vibrant woodlands and sacred forests where families can care for the trees and enjoy their splendour for generations. 

Currently, the capsule is only available as a smaller urn for ashes at a market price of $370. However, the long-term vision for Capsula Mundi is to provide a larger capsule for the body, where an individual is buried in a fetal position to symbolise the completion of life’s full cycle.      

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