The 'Living Cocoon' Is an Eco-Friendly Coffin Made With Fungi

Looking for a greener burial? This mycelium-based coffin is designed to accelerate natural decomposition, and to help remediate contaminated soils.

Living Cocoon mycelium coffin Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech 

Whether you like them or not, fungi are undoubtedly pretty amazing organisms. Some delicious varieties of mushrooms can be eaten, while other types of fungi can be used medicinally (or even psychotropically), thanks to their wide-ranging health benefits. Even more amazing is that fungi may potentially save the world: they can clean up oil spills, heal cracks in aging concrete infrastructure, or form part of a strategy for a new form of zero-waste architecture (dubbed "mycotecture") and furnishings that are grown, rather than built. Simply put, there's a lot that fungi can do.

So it comes as no surprise that fungi could potentially also revolutionize the way we are buried once we die. We've already seen prototypes for "mushroom death suits" (actor Luke Perry was apparently buried in one), and now, given the notoriously environmentally unfriendliness of conventional methods of burial, it makes sense that the problem might be solved with eco-friendly coffins – made with mushrooms.

At least, that's the idea behind the Living Cocoon, a coffin made from mycelium -- the thread-like, vegetative part of a fungus. Created by Dutch researcher Bob Hendrikx and his startup, Loop, the idea behind Living Cocoon is to accelerate the natural processes of decomposition, while also improving the surrounding soil as the body and its container gradually break down within a couple of years. Watch Hendrikx briefly explain the Living Cocoon:

Ordinarily, conventional methods of burial include the use of toxic substances like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde and phenol to embalm bodies, while caskets are made with mined metals, toxic plastic and even endangered wood. Even worse, it can take a body up to ten years or more to decompose when it's embalmed and encased in a conventional coffin. Cremation is no better, as it still releases substances like dioxin, carbon dioxide and mercury into the air.

Living Cocoon mycelium coffin interior
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

In contrast, the Living Cocoon is made from a certain kind of mycelium that is mixed with an organic substrate and placed into a mold.

Living Cocoon mycelium coffin tests
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

The mycelium gradually consumes the substrate, slowly growing to fill the mold to form the shape of the coffin, a process that takes about a week.

Living Cocoon mycelium coffin substrate
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

Best of all, the whole production process is passive, in that it doesn't require any extra energy, heat or light – compared to the resource- and energy-intensive process it would take to craft a single wooden coffin.

Living Cocoon mycelium coffin Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

In addition, the Living Cocoon is meant to remediate the soil it's placed in, as it eventually breaks down. Studies have shown that using fungi-based technologies for mycoremediation can effectively remove contaminants from the soil, such as heavy metals, petroleum-based fuels, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicide and more.

Living Cocoon mycelium coffin mycelium
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

Mycelium achieves this by secreting enzymes into a food source, which helps to break down biological polymers into smaller nutritional components that can then be absorbed by the mycelium to then feed the fungus.

As Hendrikx explains on Dezeen, the aim is to to use the transformative powers of mycelium to close the loop of life:

"We are currently living in nature's graveyard. Our behaviour is not only parasitic, it's also short-sighted. We are degrading organisms into dead, polluting materials, but what if we kept them alive? The Living Cocoon enables people to become one with nature again, and to enrich the soil instead of polluting it."
Living Cocoon mycelium coffin loop logo
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech

So far, the Loop team has launched a trial run of ten Living Cocoons in a couple of funeral cooperatives located in Delft, and The Hague. They are now aiming to do more testing, in order to better gauge what kind of benefits this living coffin might have on soil health and biodiversity, as part of a long-term plan to get more municipalities on board with the concept, says Hendrikx:

"We want to know exactly what contribution it makes to the soil as this will help us to convince local municipalities in the future to transform polluted areas into healthy woodland, using our bodies as nutrients."
Living Cocoon mycelium coffin Bob Hendrikx
Bob Hendrikx - Loop Biotech 

In any case, the concept of transforming our dead bodies into something that will nurture the earth again is one that will no doubt appeal to those who want to leave a positive impact, even in death. To find out more or to purchase a voucher, visit Loop, and check out StudioHendrikx and LoopBiotech on Instagram.