Dutch inventor Bob Hendrikx is using mycelium to create a biodegradable 'living coffin' as an alternative to traditional wooden coffins.
Death is not something we want to think about at any time while we are alive, but it is ultimately an inevitable and natural stage for everyone. While many pre-plan their funerals, others are clueless and the idea can trigger fear and sadness among many. However, Loop, a Dutch company, is trying to normalize untraditional funeral planning and even offering a new invention that has proven to be interesting. They have introduced a new eco-friendly alternative to traditional coffins with their “Living Cocoon," per CNN.
It is made from lab-cultivated mycelium, woodchips and some secret ingredients. The coffin is grown into shape over a week and filled with moss full of microorganisms on which they will lay the body. When in contact with damp soil, the mycelium comes to life and the decomposition process begins, with the entire coffin decomposing in just 45 days. Loop has teamed up with Ecovative, leaders in biomaterials, to try a new product, according to Dutch inventor Bob Hendrikx. Although it won't disappear completely, Hendrikx believes the coffin will continue to benefit the environment by breaking down further in the soil. Loop's calculations, informed by expert input, suggest that a body will fully decompose in two to three years.
Manufactured in Delft, the coffin is available for purchase at €1,495 ($1,700). Among Hendrikx's customers is Joerg Vieweg, who runs funeral homes in Germany. Vieweg praises the mycelium coffin, describing it as "a good example of how to achieve something ecologically with little change in the tradition of farewell." He adds, "(It) does not fundamentally change the process and traditions (of preparing a body for burial)," which ultimately makes this process more socially acceptable.
According to its creator, a mushroom coffin speeds up decomposition, while also improving the surrounding soil as the body and its container gradually break down into the natural environment. https://t.co/5FLLhAjc4J pic.twitter.com/NuMe3dFG4C— Treehugger.com (@Treehugger) February 12, 2021
According to Hendrikx, around 100 burials have been carried out using the Living Cocoon in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, with some European countries having more favorable laws than others. However, he admits that the funeral market is still highly traditional. Heidi van Haastert, the director of the BGNU, the association for funeral companies in the Netherlands, believes that her country is less traditional than others. However, she acknowledges that the challenge is to persuade families to choose sustainable funeral options. "Consumers are not aware of (sustainable funeral options)," she explains, " because the problem is, how many times do you organize a funeral? There’s only once or twice in your life that you’re responsible."
If I die I want to be buried in a mushroom coffin so it can decompose and I can be one with the earth again— 𝕁𝕠𝕕𝕚 (@jswaenepoel29) October 4, 2020
Van Haastert notes that funeral companies in the Netherlands are taking steps to train their staff to discuss climate-neutral options with grieving families. She also expresses optimism that new legislative guidelines will be established to promote alternative funerals. Though she acknowledges that Loop's product is currently "niche," Van Haastert predicts that in five years' time, there will be a growing demand for this type of eco-friendly coffin.
Hendrikx is confident that his eco-friendly solution is a step in the right direction. As Loop seeks to expand, it intends to create coffins using fungi that are indigenous to their final resting place, thus maximizing their positive environmental impact. Hendrikx asserts that the invention is not just a "less bad" option, but a genuinely beneficial one. Vieweg believes the funeral industry is currently undergoing a "tremendous change of paradigm." She points out that people are actively seeking sustainable solutions to protect the environment and while many traditional funeral customs will persist, new ones will also emerge. The process of witnessing this change unfold, according to Vieweg, is both exciting and challenging.