There’s not much room inside Bob Hendrikx’s “living coffins.” But there’s plenty of mushroom. Terrible pun aside, the Netherlands-based Hendrikx, founder of Delft University of Technology-born company Loop, has come up with what is surely one of the most original startup ideas of 2020: Caskets made out of mycelium.
Mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms that allow fungi to grow, turns out to be a pretty good building material. Recently, Digital Trends covered another university lab which is exploring the use of mycelium to create faux leather, wound dressings, and building materials. Loop, on the other hand, wants to use it to make living cocoons for the deceased. And, yes, they have already been used for actual funerals.
“The world’s first living coffin allows humans to not pollute the soil, but actually to enrich it,” Hendrikx told Digital Trends. “It comes from a vision that I no longer wanted to work with dead materials. We as humans tend to take things from nature and kill them. But it makes more sense to work with living materials. Nature provides us with self-healing materials, 3D materials, and even composting materials. Mycelium is nature’s biggest recycler, turning dead organic matter into key plant nutrition. I thought, ‘What a great end-of-life cycle. How can we as humans be part of this?’”
Hendrikx’s coffins are grown in molds, taking seven days for each one to grow into the finished product (if such a thing as finished really exists in the natural world). The material is mycelium with a substrate of wood chips. The only energy needed for the manufacturing process comes from solar.
“Every coffin is super unique,” he said. “Of course we tried to create some sort of product range in which the products are similar to each other. But, still, every one will be unique: some are a little more wide or a little more broad. I think that’s also the beauty of this. It’s not industrialized. It’s an organism, and we have to accept, as humans, that we cannot dominate nature as we have done for so many years.”
At the beginning, Hendrikx said that he was “super scared, like a little bit afraid to talk to people” about the concept. But he found that people have proven more open to the idea than he expected. “It’s like having a new mindset,” he said. “Death is not death. Death is life. That’s why we’re called Loop. It’s a cycle of life, just a different phase of your life. It’s sort of a reincarnation mindset.”
Interest, he said, has been surprisingly large. “We thought we were safe by growing 10 coffins,” he said, referring to the original production batch. But they have turned out to be more popular than he expected. Now, Hendrikx said, Loops plans to create around 1,500 coffins per year.
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