For the first time ever, cremation percentage rates in the United States are expected to surpass burial rates this year, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, and the number of people opting for the furnace should continue to grow exponentially in coming years. Now, the real question is, what’s a person to do with all those ashes? The industry has responded to a growing demand, and there seems to be no end to the ash keepsake products available today—many of which are a far cry from boring old urns on the mantle. Below, we round up some of the more unique options currently on the market, and also take a look at what a post-cremation, post-burial future might hold.
Vermont-based company Cremation Solutions appears at first glance to offer fairly standard options, from ceramic urns to crystal and diamond jewelry. But look deeper and you’ll find this unusual personalized option. “With advances in facial analysis and the advent of state of the art 3D imaging, these high tech urns can be made to look like anyone,” they say on their site, and show us by example with a 3D-printed bust of President Obama. For those who’d rather not stay put inside an urn for all of eternity, their ash scattering canon Loved One Launcher will blast ashes, confetti and streamers over 70 feet into the air.
In 2008, UK-based record label founder Jason Leach launched And Vinyly (a word play on “and finally”) as a personal project to plan for the pressing of his own ashes into vinyl records. “It was never intended to be a business,” he tells The Creators Project. “The huge interest it created has not left me alone and pressured me to provide the service.” Leach has pressed approximately 70 records to date.
Down in Alabama, two former law enforcement officers were chatting one day and decided their ideal hereafter would be spent inside live ammunition. Their company Holy Smoke places your ashes into shotgun shells or rifle and pistol cartridges—and clearly, what better way to celebrate a life than by shooting down some turkeys? ‘Merica!
For those drawn to the aquatic afterlife, there’s Eternal Reefs. The service mixes your ashes into the concrete mixture used to produce “Reef Balls,” artificial habitats placed underwater to develop and restore marine life.
Just wait another few decades, however, and we may have entirely different methods of disposition to choose from. Several artists and architects today are busy envisioning new options that address the environmental toll of our current practices. Even though cremation is widely regarded as more eco-friendly than burial, it is nevertheless problematic, as the process releases greenhouse gases.
While two Italians launched the Capsula Mundi project earlier this year—which aims to place the deceased inside biodegradable pods in the soil—the Urban Death Project may be slightly closer to its implementation phase. Architect Katrina Spade just completed a successful round of Kickstarter funding, and wants to build facilities where bodies could be composted, producing nutrient-rich soil to support plant life. “It’s beautiful to be able to celebrate, recognize, and encourage this idea that we’re part of this larger ecosystem,” she told Slate earlier this month.
Construction on the first Urban Death facility in Seattle should commence in 2022. And that’s good news, because as much as we care about the planet, we probably aren’t prepared to go the Tibetan sky burial route and invite a swarm of vultures for a corpse-feast.