Wouldn't it be wonderful if our remains could do some good for nature? The Capsula Mundi project is trying to turn graves into trees and cemeteries that can gradually become forests.
The book of Genesis has a passage that beautifully describes the inevitable culmination of life, which reads, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." It means that we came from dust, and one day, we shall return to it. But, wouldn't it be wonderful if our remains could do some good for nature?
As Capsula Mundi decomposes the nutrients will feed the growth of the tree planted directly above. The roots will engulf the pod and sustain life from its decomposition. The growth of a tree will easily last 10-40 years where as a coffin is typically only used for 3 days. pic.twitter.com/RPihm6ql7G— Mystic Queen (@Nnadede_1) April 6, 2019
That is exactly what the Capsula Mundi project is trying to do. It turns graves into trees and if this project takes off, cemeteries can grow into forests. The project is the brainchild of Italy-based designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel as they came up with the amazing idea of creating an organic burial pod which, in time, will turn a person's remains into a tree, reported CNN.
of Capsula Mundi, organic burial pods that basically turn dead people into trees so to speak— Today I Learned (@TodaylLearnd) January 12, 2020
Jennifer DeBruyn, an associate professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science at the University of Tennessee said, "A lot of energy also goes into producing these materials, which are used for a very short time and then buried. They're not going to break down very fast." Once the person is buried, the biodegradable shell around the capsule breaks down and the remains provide nutrients to a sapling planted right above it.
The founders of the capsule believe that death is as closely related to consumerism and their goal is to turn cemeteries full of trees rather than tombstones, reduce waste, and create new life from death. Citelli and Bretzel had the idea of Capsula Mundi back in 2003 when they came across a huge stack of furniture at the end of Milan's famous design fair, "Salone del Mobile."
Bretzel said, "It was a big competition to design new things, but almost nobody cared about the future impact or whether anyone would actually use these things. We started thinking about projects that could have an environmental aspect. Death is part of our life but at design fairs, nobody cares about that because it's one side of our life that we don't want to look at. We don't like to think of death as part of life."
So what is the science behind this project? As said by the designers, they are planning to launch the first version of their product but that is designed for cremated remains only, but their later models will also support the bodies that can be encapsulated in the fetal position. The soil will first break down the bacteria that is present in the bio-plastic and the ashes will gradually come in contact with the soil, without changing its chemical balance too dramatically.
Even though the burial of ashes is environmentally friendly, cremation is also criticized by a lot of people. DeBruyn said, "While the burial of ashes may be environmentally friendly, cremation has its critics: "It's a very energy-demanding process." Apart from that, the dated dental fillings, it also has a risk of releasing polluted Mercury, because of which some crematoriums have installed mercury filters.
Additionally, sowing a seed on top of the capsula might sound like a very attractive option, Jacqueline Aitkenhead-Peterson, Associate Professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University suggested that more trees should be used in the process.
She said, "Because the body will purge within a year in a buried environment, the nutrients are released into the soil quite quickly, so a decently sized tree planted on top would be key. Capturing these nutrients is also important to protect groundwater." But will this actually help the environment?
DeBruyn said, "The problem with traditional burials is that they're completely anaerobic. The remains are buried deep and sealed in a coffin. There's a lot of incomplete degradation. These pods may help maintain some oxygen flow into the system. The other thing they bring to the whole system is carbon [from the starch-based bioplastic]. One of the constraints and challenges with decomposing a human body is that it's very nitrogen rich. And so, the microbes that are trying to break down all that nitrogen need some carbon to balance it out."