I’ve been writing a fair bit about death in the past few months—not to say I’m an expert, but I quite like the idea of qualifying myself as one. Have you ever wondered what should happen to your social media profiles after you die? Or even what the best way to prepare yourself for death is? Well, I did. But now, in the midst of the rise of death wellness, another surprising trend is appearing—tech startups are getting involved in the funeral business. So what exactly am I talking about, and is this whole death trend getting a bit ridiculous?
Coeio is probably one of the most famous tech startups in the funeral business. Remember when former Beverly Hills 90210 actor Luke Perry died last year? Shortly thereafter, his daughter revealed that the actor was buried in a biodegradable mushroom suit from Coeio. The ‘infinity burial suit’, although suit might not be the best way to describe the strange-looking black bodysuit, is made entirely of mushrooms and other small organisms, and was designed to help decompose remains into nutrients that return to the earth.
Coeio’s mission is simple: to reduce dead people’s environmental impact by cleansing the body of toxins that would otherwise have seeped into the ground by feeding them to fungi, all this with a $1,500 (£1,140) suit. For many, the price for an eco-friendly decomposition might seem over the top, but the fungi suit seems to be one of the cheapest options the funeral market has to offer.
When pop star Prince died in 2016, his body was cremated and his ashes were put in a personalised urn—a mini replica of his house in Minnesota—designed by the 3D printing company Foreverence. What about James Doohan, also known as the actor who played ‘Scotty’ in the original Star Trek, who died in 2005? Celestis, a Houston-based company that specialises in sending urns into space made three attempts before succeeding and sending his ashes into orbit. My point is, the funeral business has proved itself to be very creative (if you can afford these kinds of extravagances).
From creating a personalised tombstone to transforming your ashes into a diamond, you can almost do it all. And there’s a reason for it—according to research conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), cremations and funerals are big businesses in the UK, with the traditional funeral market making £2 billion a year.
As taboo as the topic of death can be, it seems that things are changing, and rapidly. In a market that has forever been dominated by old-fashioned funeral companies, tech startups now see an opportunity to offer new solutions for lower prices to people who may not afford traditional burials in the first place. Not only do burials and cremations hurt the environment, but they also cost a lot of money. Surprisingly, being able to afford your own death (and what comes with it) is harder than what I had expected.
According to a SunLife research about the ‘cost of dying’, meaning the price of a basic funeral plus extras like the send-off and professional fees, it has had a 3.1 per cent increase in just one year and a rise of 42 per cent since 2007. In 2019 in the UK, the average cost for a standard funeral is £4,417. As a result, in the UK, low-income families struggle to even afford a funeral.
The funeral market is booming right now, and tech startups getting involved in it is proof that the way we proceed with funerals needs an update. But as much good as this can mean for the planet, this should also shed light on how absurd the reality is: many people can’t afford to die.