Better Body Bag

Organisation: Social Solutions Research Association

Partners: International Committee of the Red Cross, Impact Hub, THE Port, DuP, IdeaSquare, Global Humanitarian Lab

Location: Geneva, Switzerland. Preston, United Kingdom. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Type of grant: Core – development

Status: Ongoing

  • First presentation of the Better Body Bag during the THE Port Hackathon at IdeaSquare. Credit: THE Port Association

  • Designing the first Better Body Bag during the THE Port Hackathon at IdeaSquare (CERN, Geneva, November 2014)

  • Designing the first Better Body Bag during the THE Port Hackathon at IdeaSquare (CERN, Geneva, November 2014)

Better Body Bag is the next generation body bag. It aims to set new standards in identifying victims of natural disasters and armed conflict. Its primary goal is to protect the identity of the victim and ensure closure for the families. This is done by delaying decomposition and improving visual identification.


A deceased person’s body holds strong symbolism in various cultures in relation to funerary customs, as it is used as a direct representation of the deceased individual. Its absence, such as in disaster scenarios, may cause legal and sociocultural burdens. This absence also creates uncertainty for individuals regarding the life status of their absent close one. The identification of bodies in forensic cases is considered extremely important in providing closure. Body bags play a vital role in early stages of disaster victim identification as they are a tool that allow for storage, isolation and transportation of the body of a deceased person.


The new design remains affordable and functional even when no dedicated forensics infrastructure is present. Its primary goal is to delay decomposition and improve visual identification by influencing three key variables. Firstly, the better body bag can hold a vacuum. The mechanism that is used limits the body from interacting with an exterior environment, including oxygen, restricting aerobic bacterial proliferation or insects. This vacuum is easily created with the help of a standard hand pump that does not require electrical infrastructure. Secondly, it controls the temperature inside the bag by having an outer light deflecting layer. Thirdly, it controls bodily fluids associated with decomposition by using a super-absorber pad, preventing any leaking in the rare event of puncture. Additionally, it aims to improve the working conditions of humanitarian actors that manage the dead after catastrophes or armed conflicts. The bag has a closing mechanism that provides a hermetic seal and a barrier to gases, odours and organisms that can emanate from inside the bag.


Preliminary biological and load testing undertaken by the Forensic Department of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who have been financially supportive and to whom the first hundred prototype bags were provided, demonstrate that the bag successfully held a vacuum and slowed decomposition. Peer-reviewed research in association with the Taphonomic Research in Anthropology: Centre for Experimental Studies of the University of Central Lancashire, to verify results and explore the full potential of the better body bag, is underway. The taphonomic research will focus on molecular as well as whole body preservation in the new body bags using three time interval points in two separate locations with differing temperature points. Finally, the first 10,000 bags deployed in the field will be specifically monitored by ICRC. Regular feedback and improvement circles will ensure optimal performance and usability in the real deployment conditions.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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