Norway Is Overrun With Plastic-Covered Corpses That Refuse to Rot

By Ashley Feinberg on at

Norway's got a major corpse problem that isn't going away anytime soon. Literally, they won't rot. What's the culprit behind this profusion of bodies that refuse to take their place in the circle of life? The same thing that's also working to keep your sandwich fresh: plastic wrap.

For three decades following World War II, Norway's burial practices involved wrapping their dead nice and tight in a layer of plastic before setting them into wooden coffins for the Big Sleep. Apparently, they believed it to be more sanitary. Hundreds of thousands of burials later, though, Norwegian funeral directors have found themselves in a bit of a tight spot. These non-rotting corpses are squatting on prime burial spots, leaving the newly deceased high and (figuratively) dry.

For smaller countries like Norway and a few other European states, land is a scarce commodity, so 20 years after a Norwegian is first buried, their plot opens up to let in a new inhabitant (unless the bereaved want to pay an annual fee to keep their loved ones roommate-free). With about 350,000 plastic filled graves and politicians unwilling to give any extra land to the dead, one former graveyard worker, Kjell Larsen Ostbye, may have found the solution.

Norway Is Overrun With Plastic-Covered Corpses That Refuse to Rot

Kjell Larsen Ostbye's underground lime injectors, via Rehabilitation of Grave Sites (PDF).

By relying on what he remembered from a past chemistry class, Ostbye came up with a technique for poking holes into the ground and through the plastic wrap, allowing him to inject a lime based solution that would rapidly accelerate the decomposition process to no more than a year. It's more than just being a great idea, it actually works. Ostbye has already treated over 17,000 Norwegian graves (which takes about ten minutes each) in multiple cities, earning him about £420 per plot.

Norway Is Overrun With Plastic-Covered Corpses That Refuse to Rot

Image of injection process, via Rehabilitation of Grave Sites (PDF).

Of course, the family of the deceased must give permission ahead of time, but only a few have said no thus far. Though people who see Ostbye working are understandably a little put off, they come around eventually. Berit Skrauvset, a 77 year old woman who often visits her dead husband, assures The Wall Street Journal:

I must say that I think this is a good thing, especially for future generations. The plastic thing was obviously a mistake and we all want things to end the natural way, don't we? One has to assume that they don't feel any of it when lying down there.

So while all this may be a bit hard to stomach for some, there is one bright spot in addition to the newly available plots. Plastic wrap companies just got the best free press possible—because that stuff is going to keep you fresh, whether you like it or not. [The Wall Street Journal via Sarah Zhang]

Image: Shutterstock/jurasy