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These Biodegradable Coffins Will Turn Cemeteries Into Forests

Today’s graves are filled with chemicals, steel, and concrete. Imagine if we thought of death as just another part of a continuous cycle.

As the world starts to run out of space in traditional cemeteries, two Italian designers are pushing for another way to bury the dead. In the graveyard of the future, you might be planted in the ground in a biodegradable pod.

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The “Capsula Mundi” is placed in the earth like a seed and above, a tree is planted–ideally already chosen by the person who has died. “In this way, death takes on a new meaning–no longer considered as an interruption of the process of life but rather as the beginning of a series of transformations that reintroduce us into the natural cycle,” says Anna Citelli, who designed the coffin with Raoul Bretzel.

The conventional Western burial today is not exactly natural. Every acre in an average cemetery might be filled with 1,000 gallons of embalming fluids like formaldehyde, over 2,000 tons of concrete, and nearly 100 tons of steel. The egg-shaped Capsula Mundi, by contrast, is made from biostarch and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down over time.

The project is one of many to consider more sustainable ways to deal with death. The Urban Death Project skips the idea of burial completely, and turns bodies into compost for nearby gardens. The Bios Urn, like Capsula Mundi, contains a seed that grows into a tree.

The biggest challenge, say the designers, is getting official approval to use something other than a standard coffin. In Italy, the bio-pods are still illegal, though the designers have been working on the project for a decade.

“In the past 10 years, our main goal concerning Capsula Mundi has been to diffuse our idea to sensitize people about the absurd way modern culture deals with death,” says Citelli. “In almost all countries in Europe this kind of burial is not allowed. Now we are ready to lead with the production because we’ve received many requests from all over the world.”

A cemetery filled with the new coffins wouldn’t have gravestones, just trees. “The community will be in charge of caring for the tree and allowing it to grow,” says Citelli. “The cemetery becomes a forest.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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