X-Message-Number: 23853
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: Freeze-dried and then turned to powder: the new way to be buried
Date: Sat, 10 Apr 2004 21:27:39 -0700



Freeze-dried and then turned to powder: the new way to be buried
By Michael Day, Health Correspondent
(Filed: 11/04/2004)

An icy alternative to cremation, in which the dead are reduced to powder by 
freeze-drying, is to be available in Britain within two years.

The ecologically friendly method, which has been invented in Sweden, 
involves bodies being frozen very quickly then dipped in liquid nitrogen to 
cool them to minus 196C.

A simple vibration is then used to shatter the extremely brittle body into 
powder. This is then placed first in a vacuum chamber, which removes the 
water, then in a metal separator, which removes toxic metal fillings and 
surgical parts.

The dry, odourless organic remains can then be placed in a small degradable 
box made of corn starch and buried in a shallow grave. Unlike cremation, the 
process gives off no damaging fumes.

The inventors of the technique hope that it will help solve the problems of 
Britain's overcrowded graveyards and pollution from crematoria.

Some 600,000 people die in Britain every year and cemeteries and graveyards 
have reached bursting point. In 10 to 15 years many will have to close to 
new burials, unless graves are reused or turned into "double-decker" sites.

Cremation - the choice of 70 per cent of Britons - creates pollution. The 
incineration of bodies with mercury-based tooth fillings has been blamed for 
creating mercury poisoning, which can attack the nervous system and cause 
brain damage.

Britain's 242 crematoria are having to install extra filters at a cost of 
around  187 million, which is likely add  60 to the funeral bill of around 

The firm behind the freeze-dried alternative, Promessa Organics, based in 
Gothenburg, expects to get approval to start next year in Sweden and then 
bring it to Britain and other European countries.

Susanne Wiigh-Masak, a soil scientist and the firm's head of operations, 
said it already had several hundred orders from people in Sweden and around 
the world who wanted to be freeze-dried.

She said that the cost of the process would be "comparable to that of 
standard cremation", around  400. The company hopes that it will 
particularly appeal to those people seeking an environmentally friendly 

"In less than a year, the boxes and powder would become compost," Mrs 
Wiigh-Masak said. "Many people will opt to have a bush or tree planted on 
their grave."

"Green" burials are an increasingly popular choice. There are now more than 
160 burial sites across Britain where bodies can be buried, unembalmed, in a 
coffin with a sapling or wooden marker as a memorial.

Mike Jarvis, a spokesman for the Natural Death Centre, said: "We approve of 
the Swedish idea. It is eco-friendly and it improves people's choice of what 
happens to them after they die. Ordinary cremation releases toxic mercury 
fumes into the environment."

Among those keen on using the new technique is Patricia Yates, a 69-year-old 
from Dartmouth, Kent. She would like to have an azalea bush planted on her 

"This will turn death into something less forbidding and there'll even be a 
positive outcome if I'm helping one of my favourite flowers grow," she said.

"It's a much nicer thing than what we have now. Cremation and ordinary 
burials seem so horrible and depressing. And let's face it: we're running 
out of space. These little coffins would take up a lot less room than normal 

Dominic Maguire, a spokesman for the National Association of Funeral 
Directors, said: "Funeral directors will carry out the wishes of the 
deceased or families whatever they are, as long as they are legal and 
decent, so I don't think there would be a problem with this."

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "We can see no problem with this in 
terms of burial law."

The Church of England also welcomed the new technique. "We definitely 
support environmentally friendly funerals and there's no reason why they 
shouldn't be available to people who want them," a spokesman said. "When 
firm proposals for such burials arrive, we will of course, study them 

Mrs Wiigh-Masak, 48, is ready to practice what she preaches: one day she 
hopes to become a white rhododendron. "There's a special variety that I love 
with white flowers, which sometimes turn a little pink," she said. "That 
would make me happy."

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