World’s First 'Living Coffin' Aims to Reunite Us Faster With Nature

The Living Cocoon from Loop, made from mushroom mycelium, offers a uniquely green final resting place.

Loop Living Coffin resting in forest

Loop Biotech

What if coffins, traditionally used as protection against allowing our bodies to return to nature, instead both welcomed and transitioned our remains back to the earth? To be sure, that’s an image makeover with thousands of years of human history to overcome, but there are efforts underway to reimagine our final resting places as opportunities for renewal instead of finality. 

Loop Biotech, based out of the Netherlands, is one such company aiming to expand options for those seeking a more eco-friendly exit strategy. “It’s begging for innovation,” founder, biodesigner, and architect Bob Hendrikx told Treehugger of the global funeral industry. 

His company’s first product, the Loop Living Cocoon, is unique in the rapidly expanding world of green burial not because of why it breaks down, but how. Instead of being made from common biodegradable materials such as cotton, linen, willow, or bamboo, the Loop Cocoon is made from living mushroom mycelium. 

“I took a long time to arrive at such a concept,” Hendrikx explained, “because it's really about a new fundamental approach of collaborating with living organisms, instead of working with dead materials. We see nature as sort of this supermarket where we like to kill organisms and then collaborate with them. I was just looking at nature and seeing, ‘Oh, but they actually collaborate when they are alive, so wonderful everyday objects are living organisms that can breed and are self-healing.’ 

“And I just stumbled upon a lot of organisms, one of which is mycelium, which is like the biggest recycler in nature. The product market fit was actually the simple part.” 

bags of oyster mushrooms in the Loop facility

Loop Biotech

Mycelium, the fast-growing roots of a fungus, is found everywhere in nature and is increasingly believed by scientists to provide a kind of “wood-wide web” in the soil that mutually benefits an estimated 90% of plant species. It’s along these vast mycelial networks that organisms, such as trees, communicate and trade resources. 

“It’s this network, sort of like a below-ground pipeline, that connects one tree root system to another tree root system, so that nutrients and carbon and water can exchange between the trees,” forest ecologist Suzanne Simard told Yale Environment 360 in 2016. “In a natural forest of British Columbia, paper birch and Douglas fir grow together in early successional forest communities. They compete with each other, but our work shows that they also cooperate with each other by sending nutrients and carbon back and forth through their mycorrhizal networks.”

As Hendrikx mentioned, mycelium is also one of Earth’s great recyclers—fully capable of breaking down a wide variety of substances and decontaminating environments. These include pollutants such as heavy metals, textile dyes, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and pesticides and herbicides. In other words, it’s a perfectly natural solution for helping to decompose human remains safely and whatever possessions we might decide to take with us. 

Closing the Loop

Loop coffin starting to biodegrade

Loop Biotech

How is the so-called “living coffin” made? According to Hendrikx, his team first harvests the mycelium from surrounding forests. “We did a lot of testing, he said. “I started this when I was back in grad school and I was like, ’OK, we have all these types of mushrooms, let's see what works and what doesn't work.’” The team eventually settled on the mycelium of the grey oyster mushroom, a common edible variety found throughout the world.

After harvest, the mycelium is inoculated on petri dishes and later embedded into a substrate, such as sawdust or hemp. When ready, the fungi are added to a living cocoon mold filled with wood chips. In as little as six or seven days, the mycelium grows throughout the wood chips and populates the mold. After being naturally air-dried, the Cocoon is extracted and ready for sale. According to Loop, the weaving action of the mycelium is so dense that each Cocoon is capable of supporting remains in excess of 400 pounds.

Once introduced to groundwater, the mycelium reactivates, completely breaking down the Living Cocoon in as little as 30 to 45 days, and helping to speed decomposition and eliminate any toxins or pollutants. In addition, a bed of moss is included within each Cocoon to assist in the composting process. 

Whereas a body in a traditional coffin can take one or two decades to break down, Loop estimates its product will fully decompose remains in only two to three years. Even better, your last act won’t be at the further expense of the planet. U.S. cemeteries alone each year consume 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid.

And in case you’re wondering, this isn’t a product that comes with an expiration date. As long as you keep it stored in a dry location, your final resting place will be ready when you are. 

“We often compare it to a wooden table,” said Hendrikx. “If you leave a wooden table indoors, nothing is going to happen. If you leave it outdoors, however..." 

Eyes on the Future

Loop coffin in forest

Loop Biotech

Despite only launching last year, the Living Cocoon has already proven popular, with shipped orders to customers in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. The company has plans to produce another 100 over the next three to six months, with vouchers available through their website for anyone interested. To improve production, they’re scaling up their Living Cocoon factory from 10,000 square feet to over 32,000 square feet. 

According to Hendrikx, the cost of the coffin, which presently sits at around $1,600, is expected to fall as output increases and the mycelium growing process is further refined. Different versions of the Cocoon, something akin he says to a more “organic shape,” are also in the works.

“We’re going to build a shroud, an urn, and we’re also going to go into the animal market—which makes a lot of sense, because animals are allowed to be buried in your own backyard,” he added. 

In three years' time, Hendrikx says he expects Loop to have “multiple growing facilities in which we grow living products that enrich the soil.” At the same time, he expects to continue his research into exploring new organisms and seeking new collaborations with nature.

“We really want to take this thing and improve the funeral industry,” he said. “Because it’s so unnecessary what we’re presently doing.”