Burial Pods – How Environmentally Friendly Are They?

Green Burials

Posted on April 14, 2015 by Rachel Zeldin

An Op-Ed on the Burial Pods aka Capsula Mundi

The appeal of green burials (aka "natural burials") in the USA and Canada, with its values rooted in sustainability and environmental consciousness has gained increased attention in recent years. Of course green burial practices have been in place for centuries and are still widely practiced by the Jewish & Muslim faiths, though they don’t call it “green burial”, they just do it that way. Green burials are, by their very nature, based on simplicity. They entail using a simple, natural casket, or burial shroud , no embalming for temporary preservation, and ensuring that the land you are being buried on is preserved and designated as such space to ensure they aren't overridden by non-green cemeteries, housing, or commercial developments.

There are organizational bodies and groups of people who support and promote green burial practices including the Green Burial Council, Funeral Consumers Alliance, and National Home Funeral Alliance. We like to consider ourselves one of them as well after having done years of research on green burials and other alternatives to the traditional American funeral. However, every now and then creative new ideas pop up garnering the attention from the media and consumers, throwing "green burials" into the spotlight. The latest one, dubbed, “Burial Pods” or “Capsula Mundi”, proposed by a pair of Italian designers has received an exceptional amount of attention garnering millions of views, shares, and comments across a variety of social media outlets.

capsula mundi diagram Photocredits: Capsula Mundi website

The Capsula Mundi project takes the idea of “a walk to remember” into a literal sense, proposing that the dead be buried in seed-like containers, or “burial pods” that would then be used to fertilize the growth of a tree in lieu of a tombstone. With this, cemeteries would then be transformed into “sacred forests” and family and friends could ideally walk through this forest, recollecting fond memories of their deceased loved ones. You can read more about their proposed burial pods on the Capsula Mundi Website as well as on a plethora of blogs across the net. Rarely do we insert our own opinions and thoughts on matters since our preference is to disseminate the truth without letting our personal opinions shine through; but this topic is one that we felt compelled to put our own voice to and use as an educational opportunity to see how green these burial pods actually are. First, what we find really amazing about the attention that the burial pod is getting is that it is getting so much attention! It has been shared the world over on every social media site that exists. It seems that the eco-friendly aspect really struck a chord with readers, and for many it was their first time learning of a “green” option for their final farewell. While we are thrilled to see that so many people desire a greener way to go than the traditional American funeral, what most people don’t realize is that there are actually greener, simpler, and EXISTING ways to have a green burial and become that tree or bed of wild flowers or grasses that the public claims to desire. As poetic as the burial pods have been described to be, they are also impractical and likely quite costly if ever produced. We recently took part in an informal online discussion with a group of subject matter experts on the topic of these burial pods.  We’d like to share some of their thoughts on the matter as well: Dr. Billy Campbell, founder of Memorial Ecosystems and America’s first natural burial ground, Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminister, SC, and a bonafide green burial expert admitted to the appeal of the proposed new green burial method, pointing out that,

The pods are really pretty but oh-so impractical. Having done a lot of natural burials, my concerns are:, 1) You need a much deeper excavation than when the body is laid out flat [as it is in a existing green burial practices]…and a technically difficult excavation at that: very narrow 2) it concentrates the body’s nutrients in this deeper grave. Deeper means—depending on the type of soil—a greater chance that nutrients will be transported downwards, not upwards. The body laid out flat in a more shallow configuration is better, particularly in habitats that involve not just trees, but grasses and trees or grasses alone 3) it would be much more difficult to lower [the body], especially for large people 4) a simple shroud is both elegant and potentially less expensive... This reads "expensive product to me. 

Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, seconded Billy’s concerns, saying,

'Expensive product’ is exactly right. It's so frustrating how easy it is to get media attention for overpriced, Rube Goldberg burial "solutions," replacing one set of Branded DeathStyle Products(TM) for another. And the average reader/consumer is no closer to escaping the money treadmill than they would be at a conventional mortuary.

He further pointed out to us that, This is one of ever more ways to make products where products aren't needed, ever more ways to complicate the simplifying of natural burial. Excellent points, Billy & Josh!  As previously mentioned, we’ve seen a huge buzz in the consumer-sphere since this article went out. It has gone quite viral for a death piece and the reactions to the green aspect and becoming a tree have been so positive. However, keep in mind, that as lovely as the drawing depicts and the story prescribes, there are much simpler, practical, and truly green ways to go if you desire. If you care to learn more about truly green burials, check out these articles:

Cover Photocredits: Rypley via Imgur