Promession is an alternative to cremation which is designed to process human remains so that they can be easily mulched back into the Earth. The process was developed by Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish biologist who wanted to find a respectful and ecological way to handle human remains. The concept has met with some opposition, because it represents a novel approach to handling the burial process.
The first step in promession freezes the body in a vat of liquid nitrogen, making it very brittle. Next, the body is gently broken apart with ultrasonic vibration, creating a damp powder which is dried and then packaged in a small biodegradable coffin. Since the bulk of human weight is water and this water is removed during the freeze drying process, the promains are relatively light. They will also remain odorless as long as they are kept dry.
Once survivors collect the promains, they can bury them and plant a memorial tree, plant, or garden over them. As the promains get wet, they will naturally decompose, composting the earth and providing nourishment to the garden. The intent of the process is to return to the earth, rather than being isolated in a coffin with preservatives.
Unlike cremation, promession does not release toxins into the environment through burning. After the body has been broken apart, medical devices, mercury fillings, and other potential contaminants are removed for recycling. Promains are also very nourishing for plants, and they are meant to evoke a time when humans were allowed to decay naturally after death, thus continuing the cycle of life. Human remains can also be disposed of in a green burial, unembalmed and in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, but promession allows family members to transport remains, if desired, or to distribute them in multiple places.
A facility which offers promession services is known as a promatorium. The legality of the process was still being argued in several nations as of 2007, but several promatoriums were scheduled to open in both Sweden and the United Kingdom by 2008. Each promatorium facility will have at least one promator for handling remains, and the facility may offer other green burial services as well.
Natural burial and more ecological ways of handling death are a topic of interest for many people who are concerned about the environment. Promession is only one such option, designed to illustrate that there is an alternative and healthy way to handle human remains.