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Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak (Promessa)

One problem with natural burial is that it’s missing a critical element found in nature, according to Promessa Organic founder Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak.

That element is teeth. When an animal dies in the wild, it doesn’t just sit and decompose. It gets torn apart by scavengers and carnivores, which allows the body to be absorbed back into the soil, instead of rotting and giving off a noxious smell.

“Carnivores are the soil’s teeth,” said Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish biologist. “Whenever you walk in nature you don’t smell dead foxes or elk […] My process was to say ‘I need to figure out how the body can be made into smaller pieces without offending anyone.’”

The process Wiigh-Mäsak devised is called promession, which is, essentially, freezing the body and then shaking it until it breaks into pieces. Those pieces can then be returned to the soil and ecosystem.

First, the body is cryogenically frozen with liquid nitrogen that freezes the body at -320 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it crystalline. Then the body is shaken into dust. That dust is then freeze-dried, which removes water and reduces the remains to 30 percent of the original weight. What’s left is then put through a metal separation process – to remove fillings, for example – and then buried in a corn or potato starch coffin. This process will allow the remains to become soil within six to 18 months.

The promession process has not been used on a human being yet. But the company, located in Sweden, plans to lease equipment to funeral homes in Northern Europe in the spring (it has letters of interest from eight funeral homes, according to Wiigh-Mäsak). Wiigh-Mäsak says the greatest interest in promession has come from the U.S. — Josh Keefe