Six Inches Under
By Eva Barkeman, FORTUNE

(FORTUNE Magazine) - Burial, cremation, now ... mulching your loved ones? That's what a Swedish company, Promessa Organic, is hoping will become the next big thing in the disposal of the dead.

The company, founded by biologist Susanne Wiigh-Masak, 50, has come up with an environmentally friendly process of decomposition called promession that involves freeze-drying the body, then subjecting it to vibration to turn it into a powder. After metals from dental fillings are separated, the dust is placed in a biodegradable casket and buried in a shallow grave where it becomes compost, suitable for growing trees or shrubs.

"This way, death is more appealing," says Wiigh-Masak, whose company holds patents in 36 countries, including the U.S., and plans to start operations this fall in Jönköping, a small Swedish city. Wiigh-Masak, who says she would like to give life to a white rhododendron after she dies, considers existing methods of disposal "system failure," since burial results in rotting and cremation causes the body to diffuse into air.

"We are six billion people who are all built from products of the soil - crops and cattle," she says. "But today we don't return." A tree planted at the cemetery, Wiigh-Masak says, will grow from the atoms of a loved one, a symbol for eternal life. The archbishop of the Church of Sweden, K.G. Hammar, has backed the new form of burial, and thousands have expressed interest in the ecological funerals, which will cost about $500. The first ten, Wiigh-Masak says, are already in the freezer, waiting to turn to dust. Top of page