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4 Sep, 2009 08:41

Die green: eco-friendly funerals gain popularity in Sweden

In Sweden, biologists are working on making funerals a more eco-friendly affair. Their ideas on environmentally-safe memorial services are met with contempt by some Christians, however.

For Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, life after death is not a matter of faith, it is an ecological problem.

She has worked out a method for recycling human corpses into fertilizer for the soil. To her, a perfect graveyard would be a park full of flowers.

“Today with the traditional burial methods that we have, we tend to affect either the ground water or the air, and no one is coming back to the soil that fed us at the beginning,” she said. “That is, perhaps, the most important thing to see if we can find the way back.”

Susanne suggests freeze-drying is a safe way for bodies to return to their roots.

In her technology, a frozen human body is shattered into pieces that turn into powder after the water evaporates. According to the scientist, the remains are fully absorbed into the soil within a year.

Over 70% of the dead are cremated in Sweden. The church controls most burials and cremations in the country, and has endorsed the idea of eco-friendly funerals.

“You come from earth, you will go back to earth,” said Swedish Lutheran priest Helge Josefsson. “It is nice. Nice is a good word for it.”

However, there is still some red tape to plough through before eco-friendly funerals become common in Sweden.

Meanwhile, the message behind this burial method which is about supporting life appeals to many. South Koreans have already bought a license for using the method.

Still, personal beliefs could stop people from opting for this solution, which costs about the same as a cremation. The method would be unacceptable for many Orthodox Christians.

“For our church, death is like a mystery – our body will someday join our soul,” said Orthodox Priest Father Mikhail. “The ecology is not so important that we should destroy mystery in church.”

However, Susanne Wiigh-Misak has her own views on resurrection.

“The lord is almighty and we are promised a new body at the resurrection. So that’s not a problem,” she said.

The scientist calls her method a “promation”, meaning “a promise of a new life”, and there is a chance the crematoria in Sweden could be reequipped as “promatoria”.