Promession: The Most Ecological Way to Bury Our Dead?

The final product of over 20 years of research and testing from Swedish scientist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, promession is a new, eco-friendly burial option for those wishing for their corpse to leave the smallest ecological impact possible. Concerned with the negative impact current burial practices have on the environment, Wiigh-Mäsak came up with this method to return our bodies to the ground in a way that gives nutrients back to the earth instead of damaging it.

There are several steps to promession. The first occurs after the funeral services or ceremonies have taken place and the body is placed into the Promator machine. Once there, the body will be frozen using liquid nitrogen to -196° C (or -321° F). This process takes about two hours, and all of the liquid nitrogen used will evaporate into the air harmlessly. After it has been frozen, the body will then be transported onto a belt, which will use ultrasonic vibrations to shatter the body into tiny, millimeter-sized pieces. It only takes one minute to break the body down in this way. Next, the body is placed into a vacuum chamber where the remaining water is extracted from the body and which will then evaporate into the air. After this, only 30% of the body’s total composition remains. The remaining dry particles go through electrical currents which will remove any metal left in the body (such as dental fillings and prosthetic hips), and this metal will then be recycled. Finally, the remains are placed into a small, bio-degradable coffin, which is then buried very shallowly. The body and coffin will be completely decomposed within 6-12 months, which can be contrasted to the several years it can take for a typical burial.

As someone who tries to live in an environmentally-conscious way, I find this method of burial very attractive. However, with all the expensive equipment and technology that is used, I could easily see this being an extremely expensive way to be buried.


3 responses to “Promession: The Most Ecological Way to Bury Our Dead?

  1. I found this topic interesting because I do think there is a practical problem with the common casket burial. The main issues are the lack of space and the time to decompose; the idea of using promession eliminates these issues. Also the eco-friendly factor is a nice sentiment of using your death to heal the earth. I do agree that the cost to preform promession is a large complication. I think that there need to be more research into ways to make this less expensive. I think if the cost was low this form of burial could become popular amongst those that are concerned for the environment. I enjoy the idea where a person is returned to the earth and the basic properties of nature that in a way created them.

    The idea of environmental awareness to death reminds me of another method of burial that is similar in being environmentally conscious ( . Recently coffins have been redesigned to be biodegradable. It includes a pod which the person is buried and from that pod a tree can grow. This method not only reduces the material impact of death on the environment, it also contributes the rebuilding of the environment through the planting of tree. There is something pleasant about using death to aid the environment.

  2. Alex R. Berman

    This is a topic I never could have dreamed of encountering: sustainable death (as opposed to sustainable living). We always think of decomposition as food for the bacteria that help complete the life cycle, but this article makes me question how much that of that organic matter contributes to other organisms in the life cycle. I like how you interject your opinions about it and consider the economic aspects of it in addition to the ecological. You mention that this procedure is expensive—how much does it cost, and how does that price compare to our normative burial procedures with coffins in the ground? Also, in which countries/states is it legal? Another question that came up is what do they do with the prosthetic parts and dental fillings after removing them? This article also brings me back to the motivations people have for selecting “alternative” burial methods—was it the deceased or bereaved (or both) that wanted to have a ecologically-friendly burial process?

  3. I will have to do further research about this topic. It appears immediately to me that this seems like a rather expensive way to accomplish what will happen naturally. In other words, if you toss a corpse into a hole and bury it, it will decompose naturally. Therefore, it seems a bit paradoxical to me to use such expensive technology to achieve a natural end. As a dilettante ecologist, I would note that the resources necessary to freeze the corpse, shatter it, etc., are much greater than what would be necessary for a more natural burial. However, I am intrigued by the article Katie notes above about tree burial pods. I think a tree would serve as a less environmentally harmful memorial symbol of a deceased individual than a traditional tombstone. Sometimes though, I do think we should just get back to burial basics.

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