All things come to an end, including our lives. Over the generations and around the world, deathcare has taken many turns. From Viking send-offs in flaming boats to modern-day caskets and cremations, the challenge of honoring the dead is ongoing. Now, we’re adding the environmental aspect to the mix by recognizing the vast amounts of materials and land that are dedicated to human burial. A new company called Transcend, launched in October 2022, set out to create an eco-friendly option for end-of-life planning that honors life, death and the planet.
Transcend is a one-of-a-kind deathcare service that is simple by design. The basic concept is a human burial that relies only on natural materials — and reforests the world in the process.
Transcend burials take place in forests that are protected against future development. Located a few hours outside select cities, these forests become a resting place and a well-managed forest.
How it works
The plot is first prepared with a layer of locally-sourced wood chips inside the hole. Bodies are prepared for burial with a wrapping of biodegradable flax linen and then lowered onto the bed of wood chips. The body is covered with another layer of mycorrhizal-enriched fungi, soil and additional wood chips. This provides nutrients for the tree that is then planted at the top of the hole.
Trees can be chosen by the family. Options are offered based on the local conditions and attention to tree health and longevity. As the tree grows, the roots will benefit from the nutrients in the hole, including those provided by the decomposing body. The system then spreads across the underground network, connecting one tree’s nutrients and resources to surrounding trees. This means a family can remain connected through the natural world if buried in proximity, and each death gives new life to plants and animals within the ecosystem.
The benefits to the environment
Jennifer DeBruyn Ph.D., Human Decomposition Expert, explains, “Humans and animals are dense with nutrients that plants need to grow. Transcend’s Tree Burial model harnesses and optimizes for the naturally-occurring process of decomposition that allows for the recycling of nutrients into our ecosystem.”
In addition to enriching the soil and contributing to a healthy forest, a Transcend burial means enhancing existing natural areas rather than setting aside land for cemeteries.
When considering the environmental effects of standard cremation and casket burials, a Transcend burial is clean, waste-free and doesn’t pollute the land.
Ed Bixby, Head of the Green Burial Council, says, “People deserve transparency about their end-of-life choices. My biggest issue with cremation (and some of the newer offerings, like natural organic reduction and aquamation) has always been the lack of transparency regarding what the processes actually entail. For example, it takes two 100-pound propane tanks to incinerate a body. And when a body goes through aquamation or natural organic reduction, it’s quite invasive and requires the use of a cremulator to grind bones into ash. I believe that if people were provided with transparent, factual information about these options, they might choose differently.”
Since, in a Transcend burial, the body is wrapped in natural materials, it means less wood being used for caskets, as well as metal, toxic chemicals, cement and other materials that are commonly buried. “As a result of traditional burials, 20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of steel are put into the ground each year,” the company states from statistics by the Green Burial Council.
In contrast to the notable carbon dioxide released during cremation, Transcend burials result in carbon absorption instead. “Cremation, once marketed as an eco-conscious alternative to traditional burials, releases approximately 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Tree Burial sequesters 5.8x more CO2 than a cremation emits,” Transcend shares.
Even more trees
In addition to the tree planted at your burial site, 1,000 additional native trees are planted in another part of the world with each Transcend Tree Burial. Through a partnership with One Tree Planted, this collaboration is helping to meet the scientifically-suggested goal of planting 1.2 trillion trees in the next 10 years in order to offset the worst effects of climate change.
Transcend is offering people of all ages the opportunity to invest in their own forest plots. Payment plans started today to support the immediate growth of the company and its ongoing efforts to reforest the planet. With each commitment, Transcend plants the 1,000 trees upfront in order to develop forests for the future. This allows people to plan for the burial they prefer and make zero-interest payments while still alive, without unexpectedly burdening the family.
Reserve your spot
The company will begin accepting reservations in the spring of 2023. For now, interested parties can join the “Future Tree Movement” with $100. The money will go to One Tree Planted and 100 trees will be planted with the funds. Once reservations open up, your membership will lock in the $8,500 rate for the Transcend service, which will guarantee protection against future price increases. You’ll also be able to choose your tree species and burial location. Of course, you can donate to the campaign without committing to a Transcend burial.
Transcend also offers tree burial for pets with the same benefits to the planet — DIY style. The kit provides pet owners with a flax linen carrier and burial bag, as well as enriched soil and instructions for use. You can then bury your pet and plant a tree in their memory. Transcend will donate 25 trees with the sale of each pet burial kit.
Images via Transcend