Burial Alternatives Going Mainstream

Sep 15, 2011 | 2 comments

The Science Channel on MSNBC.com recently ran an interesting story on eight burial alternatives that are becoming more common. LiveScience Senior Writer Stephanie Pappas wrote this great piece that covered alkaline hydrolysis (also called resomation), natural burial (a.k.a. green burial), eternal reefs, cryonics, space burial, mummification, plastination (preserving bodies for education or exhibitions), and freeze drying.

I’ve written quite a bit about alkaline hydrolysis, cryonics, and green burial. Here are some bits from the story about the other alternatives.

Eternal Reefs

For those who prefer to nourish a more aquatic environment after death, there’s also the Eternal Reef option. Georgia-based Eternal Reefs creates artificial reef material out of a mixture of concrete and human cremains (the crushed bone left over from cremations). These heavy concrete orbs are then placed in areas where reefs need restoration, attracting fish and other organisms that turn the remains into an undersea habitat.

Cremation isn’t as green as natural burial due to the combustion process, Harris said, but he is a fan of Eternal Reef burials.

“It’s a terrific opportunity not just to return to an aquatic environment, but to produce new life under the sea,” he said.

Space Burial

If cryonics sounds too expensive, but you’d still like the afterlife to smack of sci-fi, you can always get some of your ashes shot into space. Your cremated remains will hitch a ride on a rocket already headed for the stars, a journey that is more symbolic than practical: Because of the high cost of spaceflight, only 1 to 7 grams (0.04 to 0.25 ounces) of remains are launched.

According to Celetis Memorial Spaceflights, a company that offers the postmortem flights, a low-orbit journey that lets your cremains experience zero gravity before returning to Earth starts at $995. A chance to orbit Earth and eventually burn up in the atmosphere runs around $3,000. Dedicated space-lovers can have themselves launched to the moon or into deep space for $10,000 and $12,500, respectively.


It’s not just for ancient Egyptians anymore. A religious organization called Summum, founded in 1975, offers mummification services to both people and pets. Before his death in 2008, Summum’s founder Corky Ra told CBS News that at least 1,400 people had signed up for eventual mummification.

Summum’s representatives are currently not granting media requests, but Ra told CBS that the price of human mummificationstarts at $63,000. Like believers in cryonics, Ra and those like him hope that their preserved DNA will enable future scientists to clone them and give them (or at least their genes) a second shot at life. Ra put his money where his mouth was: After he died, he was mummified and is now encased in bronze in Summum’s pyramid in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Much like mummification, plastination involves preserving the body in a semi-recognizable form. Invented by anatomist Gunther von Hagens, plastination is used in medical schools and anatomy labs to preserve organ specimens for education. But von Hagens has taken the process one step further, creatingexhibits of plastinated bodies posed as if frozen in the midst of their everyday activities. According to the Institute for Plastination, thousands have signed up to donate their bodies for education and display.


The newest comer on the eco-burial stage is a process called Promession, or put more plainly, freeze-drying. Invented by Swedish marine biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, the process involves immersing the corpse in liquid nitrogen, which makes it very brittle. Vibrations shake the body apart and the water is evaporated away in a special vacuum chamber. Next, a separator filters out any mercury fillings or surgical implants, and the powdered remains are laid to rest in a shallow grave.

With a shallow burial, oxygen and water can mix with the powdered remains, turning them into compost.

No one has yet been sent off into the afterlife the Promession way, but Promessa, the company developing the service, now has a licensed branch in the United Kingdom. There’s no hint of when the option might land on American shores.

A Good Goodbye