The unsustainability of modern life doesn't stop when you die. Before your body goes in a casket, it will be pumped full of formaldehyde and other toxic solvents; cremation contributes to climate change. Even if you choose a so-called green burial, chemicals in your body—like pesticides or mercury—can pollute the soil.
Two designers created another option: a burial suit made with mushrooms that basically turns you into compost, consuming dead cells and filtering out pollutants in the process.
"I was inspired by the idea that mushrooms are the master decomposers of the earth and thereby the interface organisms between life and death," says artist Jae Rhim Lee, who learned about "mycoremediation"—the ability of mushrooms to clean up contaminants like heavy metals—from legendary mushroom guru Paul Stamets.
Over the last six years, Lee and partner Mike Ma have perfected the design of the Infinity Burial Suit, made with mushroom-filled thread. Later this year, they'll begin selling the first suits.
"The biggest challenge for the project and now the company has been learning how to work with our cultural fear of death, instead of ignoring it," she says. "Selling a product that forces people to confront their mortality requires more than just the usual marketing, distribution, or sales tactics. It is critical to meet people where they are. So we are taking a human-centered, needs-driven approach to designing for death by embedding in people's lives, following them through the funeral planning process, and learning about how families make decisions."
The project isn't the only one to consider composting people. The Urban Burial Project envisions large funeral buildings where people can ritually and naturally decompose. Designers in Italy created a biodegradable pod that holds a corpse, with a tree planted on top.
Lee hopes her design helps push the trend forward. "For every person who uses the Infinity Burial Suit, there will be many more who witness the choice to return to the earth and to use one’s body in a beneficial way," she says. "Cumulatively, this will help create a cultural shift toward a cultural acceptance of death and our personal responsibility for environmental sustainability."
The Infinity Suits will begin shipping in the summer, and the designers are taking names for a waiting list now.
Slideshow Credits: 02 / Mikey Siegel; 04 / James Patten;