Even in death, we can inflict a negative environmental impact, from the release of heavy metals during the cremation of bodies, to the toxic effect of chemicals used in the embalming process. Skipping the pollutive process of conventional burials entirely, artist Jae Rhim Lee proposes a mushroom-based, alternative burial method, which will also help to remediate the plethora of fat-soluble toxins found in dead bodies and prevent them from re-entering the soil. Her level-headed but humoristic explanation of her "Mushroom Death Suit" on TED deserves a watch:
Lee, who was also a director on a project that transformed defunct FEMA trailers into mobile gardens, gives more details on this radically different burial concept which employs the humble mushroom and is also more than just a suit:
The [Infinity Burial] Project features the development of a unique strain of mushroom that decomposes and remediates toxins in human tissue, the development of a decomposition ‘kit’, burial suits embedded with decomposition activators, and a membership society devoted to the promotion of death awareness and acceptance and the practice of decompiculture (the cultivation of decomposing organisms).
There's no doubt that the way we do burials now is completely out of whack, as Lee astutely explains that "we deny death, poison the living and further harm the environment."
Though it may seem strange at first, Lee's proposal is ultimately a compelling one: zero-carbon, non-toxic burials that make for great compost. And like other burial concepts which allow for a body to naturally flow back into the cycle of life and death -- without artificially and culturally-induced constraints -- Lee's specially-trained, body-eating mushrooms, mycelium-impregnated suit and a "radical acceptance of death and decomposition," may be exactly what our stilted and unnatural death culture needs.
More of Lee's work can be found on her website.