Instead Of A Coffin, Be Buried In A Biodegradable Pod That Helps Grow A Tree

Eventually, the cemetery becomes a forest.

Designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel want to change the way we think about death–and the way humans think about their relationship to the environment. Instead of tombstone-filled cemeteries, and formaldehyde-filled bodies sealed in steel or wooden coffins, they think people should be buried in biodegradable pods, becoming fertilizer for trees planted on top.


“We imagine that cemeteries could become forests,” says Bretzel. The egg-shaped pod they created, called Capsula Mundi, is designed to hold a dead body in a fetal position, and slowly decompose underground.

© Brenda Fitzsimons

“It’s planted like a seed, and on top of it, we plant a tree chosen in life by the person,” he says. “Family and friends can take care of the tree as it grows in the first few years. So in this way, tree after tree, the cemetery will become a forest.”

Last year, Citelli and Bretzel released designs for a smaller pod that can hold ashes. Now they’re tackling the challenges of making the pod the size of a body. Creating a mold for manufacturing at that scale is difficult; it’s also more difficult to maintain the structure of the material, a biopolymer made from plant starch.

Once the design is ready, it won’t be available for use everywhere. In some countries–such as Italy, where the designers are based–so-called “green burials” are still illegal. In other countries, like the U.S. and U.K., green burials are becoming more popular, as people realize the environmental problems caused by burying people along with gallons of toxic embalming fluid, reinforced concrete, and heavy metals.

Bretzel thinks Capsula Mundi can also help people feel more comfortable with the idea of death. “People are afraid to talk about death, and it is one of the last taboos in our society,” he says. “I think in some way Capsula Mundi changes the way you think about death. You can see death no more as the end, but as a way to go into the cycle of life, and so to go back to nature.”

Capsula Mundi is running a Kickstarter campaign to take the final steps needed for manufacturing the larger version of the pod.


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All Photos: via Capsula Mundi


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.