Director Lonneke Westhoff, right, and founder Bob Hendrikx, left, of Dutch startup Loop Biotech display one of the cocoon-like coffins, grown from local mushrooms and up-cycled hemp fibres, designed to dissolve into the environment amid growing demand for more sustainable burial practices, in Delft, Netherlands, Monday, May 22, 2023. A Dutch intrepid inventor is now “growing” coffins by putting mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, together with hemp fiber in a special mold that, in a week, turns into what could basically be compared to the looks of an unpainted Egyptian sarcophagus. (AP Photo/Aleksandar Furtula)
DELFT, Netherlands (AP) — For those seeking to live in the most sustainable way, there now is an afterlife too.
A Dutch intrepid inventor is now “growing” coffins by putting mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, together with hemp fiber in a special mold that, in a week, turns into what could basically be compared to the looks of an unpainted Egyptian sarcophagus.
And while traditional wooden coffins come from trees that can take decades to grow and years to break down in the soil, the mushroom versions biodegrades and delivers the remains to nature in barely a month and a half.
In our 21st century, when the individual spirit can increasingly thrive way beyond the strictures of yore, death and funerals are all so often still hemmed in by tradition that may fall far short of the vision of the deceased or their loved ones.
“We all have different cultures and different ways of wanting to be buried in the world. But I do think there’s a lot of us, a huge percentage of us, that would like it differently. And it’s been very old school the same way for 50 or 100 years,” said Shawn Harris, a U.S. investor in the Loop Biotech company that produces the coffins.
With climate consciousness and a special care of nature a focal point in ever more lives, Loop Biotech says it has the answer for those wanting to live the full circle of life — and then some — as close to what they always believed in.
Bob Hendrikx, the 29-year-old founder bedecked in a “I am compost” T-shirt at a recent presentation, said that he had researched nature a great deal “especially mushrooms. And I learned that they are the biggest recyclers on the planet. So I thought, hey, why can we not be part of the cycle of life? And then decided to grow a mushroom-based coffin.” Moss can be draped within the coffins for the burial ceremonies.
And for those preferring cremation, there is also an urn they grow which can be buried with a sapling sticking out. So when the urn is broken down, the ashes can help give life to the tree.
“Instead of: ‘we die, we end up in the soil and that’s it,’ Now there is a new story : we can enrich life after death and you can continue to thrive as a new plant or tree,” Hendrikx said in an interview. “It brings a new narrative in which we can be part of something bigger than ourselves.”
To put nature at the heart of such funerals, Loop Biotech is partnering with Natuurbegraven Nederland — Nature Burials Netherlands — which uses six special habitats were remains can be embedded in protected parks.
Currently, Loop Biotech has a capacity to “grow” 500 coffins or urns a month, and are shipping across Europe. Hendrikx said they have caught on in the Nordics.
“It’s the Northern European countries where there is more consciousness about the environment and also where there’s autumn,” he said. “So they know and understand the mushroom, how it works, how it’s part of the ecosystem.”
By RAF CASERT and ALEKSANDAR FURTULA Associated Press
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