Sweden's new funeral rite - bodies freeze-dried, powdered and made into tree mulch
By Kate Connolly
A town in Sweden plans to become the first place in the world where corpses will be disposed of by freeze-drying, as an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation or burial. Jonkoping, in southern Sweden, is to turn its crematorium into a so-called promatorium next year.
Swedes will then have the chance to bury their dead according to the pioneering method, which involves freezing the body, dipping it in liquid nitrogen and gently vibrating it to shatter it into powder. This is put into a small box made of potato or corn starch and placed in a shallow grave, where it will disintegrate within six to 12 months.
People are to be encouraged to plant a tree on the grave. It would feed off the compost formed from the body, to emphasise the organic cycle of life.
The national burial law is currently being updated to accommodate a practice that is expected to spread across the country over the next few years.
The technique was conceived by a Swedish biologist, Susanne Wiigh-Masak, 49, who said: "Mulching was nature's original plan for us, and that's what used to happen to us at the start of humanity - we went back into the soil.
"But we need to tell people in this day and age that this can once again be a dignified and comfortable option." According to Mrs Wiigh-Masak's method, which she has called "promession" - the promise to return to the earth what emerged from the earth - the dead body is frozen and dried, using liquid nitrogen.
A mechanical vibration then causes the body to fall apart within 60 seconds before a vacuum removes the water.
Then a metal separator picks out metals such as artificial hips and dental fillings.
Jonkoping's motivation for converting its crematorium into a promatorium is mainly practical. According to European environmental laws, it faced a multi-million pound bill for the installation at its 50-year-old crematorium of a new gas-cleaning system and furnace.
The alternative was the much cheaper conversion and a more environmentally friendly procedure.