Intelligent Energy

The death of CO2

The death of CO2

Posting in Energy

Greenhouse guilt is following us to the grave. Two eco-friendly things you can do after you pop your clogs, from Europe.

You probably thought you won't have to worry about CO2 when you’re dead. But the eco guilt trip is following us to the grave. Now, it seems, we have to consider what to do should we be so environmentally irresponsible as to die.

You see, caskets in traditional burial grounds use up a lot of land and don’t properly decompose us in a manner that benefits the soil. It all leaves behind metals from artificial joints, and mercury seeps out from our dental fillings– that’s an environmental no-no. Likewise dental mercury vapor from cremation is supposedly a major contributor to airborne mercury.  And there’s a carbon footprint and air pollution associated with fossil fuel fired cremation.

So, from Europe come two eco-friendly options for after we pop our clogs, as reported by the BBC . One liquefies us and essentially washes all but our bones down the drain, sterilely. The other freeze-dries us into flakes that compost the soil after a shallow burial.

If you still have the stomach, read on.

First, the liquefaction. Glasgow-based Resomation Ltd. breaks down the body into liquid, using a water and alkali solution inside a machine called a “resomator” (pictured, right). Resomation CEO Sandy Sullivan claims the liquid is sterile and free of DNA, and says on the company’s website that the liquid “is returned to the water cycle.”

The process leaves behind bone ash so loved ones can still take home an urn, as in cremation. But according to Sullivan, resomation cuts greenhouse gases by about 35% compared to cremation, and uses only one seventh the energy.

A resomator could be coming to a funeral home near you. The BBC reports that the Anderson-McQueen funeral home in St Petersburg, Fla., has installed one.

If melting down isn’t your idea of an acceptable alternative to a traditional burial, then there’s always “promession,” from Gothenburg, Sweden’s’ Promessa Organic AB, run by biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak (pictured, below).

The process freeze dries the body using liquid nitrogen, and vibrates it into flakes that form an organic powder. Promession removes metals and mercury, and like resomation, separates out bone ash for urns.

It places the freeze-dried powder in a biodegradable coffin that can be buried in topsoil where it all decomposes within a year, feeding the soil – Promessa’s website even suggests planting a tree or bush above the coffin to honor the deceased.

Promessa claims that in the traditional 6-feet-under method, bodies rot rather than decompose, and therefore do not nourish the soil but pollute it. Besides giving off mercury, they can also put carcinogenic embalming fluid – formaldehyde – into the ground and can lead to oxygen depletion in the seas, Promessa’s website notes.

So, your CO2 and eco checklist: Turn off the lights; Don’t let the car idle; Fertilize the garden after dying.

Photos: Top, Wikimedia Commons; Middle, Resomation Ltd; Bottom, Niklas Johansson

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure