Ash, Diamonds, Stones, Trees, Compost, Effluent, or … Plastic?

Embalming Funeral Industry News GROW December 15, 2021
Plastic Bodies Plastination 1

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Ash, Diamonds, Stones, Trees, Compost, Effluent, or … Plastic?

Of all potential methods of final disposition, this one may qualify as the most “21st Century.” Plastination is the process of converting flesh to plastic by replacing a body’s fluids with a curable polymer — a process that can take weeks, even months, depending on the size of the specimen and type of polymer used.  Once treated, the body won’t decompose, requires virtually no maintenance, and is odor free.  It will retain the natural contours of the original specimen, remain anatomically intact, and maintain its original appearance. 

There’s no exposure to harsh chemicals and, carefully handled, durable specimens last decades.

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BERLIN, GERMANY – FEBRUARY 18: A plastinated corpse is seen on the opening day of the Bodyworlds (Koerperwelten) exhibition in the Menschen Museum (Human Museum) on February 18, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. The latest incarnation of anatomist Gunther von Hagens’ exhibition of plastinated human bodies, installed permanently under the Berlin television tower (Fernsehturm) at the city’s central Alexanderplatz square, opened after a local court ruled that the while the specimens preserved by a process that replaces natural human material with a synthetic resin do in fact count as corpses, they do not violate burial codes. Organisers say more than 15,000 people, predominently from von Hagens’ own country of Germany, have agreed to donate their own bodies to his exhibitions. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

How It’s Done

There are two versions of the process, and they work essentially the same way.  The first takes place at a temperature of -20 C (-4 F); the second at room temperature.  The main difference between the two is in the type of polymer used.  Silicone, polyurethane, epoxy, and polyester (!) are common options.

Either process, in a nutshell, looks like this:

1: Dissection of the specimen.

2: Specimen washed and bleached,

3: Specimen dehydrated in acetone,

4: Submerged in a vacuum chamber filled with polymer,

5: Acetone drawn out via vacuum; polymer simultaneously drawn in, replacing the acetone

6: Specimen removed.

7: Excess polymer allowed to drain (may take days, weeks, or months depending on the size of the specimen and the amount of polymer (think plastinated human fetus vs. plastinated shark or elephant).

8: Specimens are then posed and treated with a catalyst to set the polymer

When handled with care, polymerized specimens can last decades.  There’s no attendant mess of the sort that accompanies wet specimens and no danger of exposure to toxic chemicals.


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There are a number of international exhibits active where one can see multiple specimens of plastinated bodies of human adults, fetal tissue, and animals.  The most famous and longest-standing is Body Worlds.  To inquire about making body donations, contact Body Worlds here or download their body donation brochure here.

US Plastination Laboratories

Currently, there are eight laboratories in the US capable of the plastination process, largely affiliated with universities.  Most facilities present the usual “intended for educational purposes” disclaimer — even the internationally travelling original German exhibit.

Some of the plastination labs in the US accept body donations:

Thanks to Connecting Directors contributing author Jennifer Trudeau for this fascinating story!