With growing trends toward environmental sustainability and protection, many people have incorporated eco-friendly alternatives into everyday life, like electric hybrid cars, paper straws over plastic, backyard composting, and so on. However, sustainability can also be a consideration at the end of life for funerals and burials. This article outlines some ways to make eco-friendly choices for a green funeral.
Cremation is often viewed as a more eco-friendly option when compared to burials. It has a less labour intensive process because embalming is not needed. This is called direct cremation. It requires fewer resources with no upkeep of a gravesite, and it leaves less of a physical and environmental footprint. However, cremation still has a significant environmental impact because it requires energy to reduce human remains to ashes. Aquamation helps to reduce this impact further, making for a more eco-friendly process.
Aquamation, sometimes referred to as "liquid cremation" or "green cremation," uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis to cremate remains. The body is treated with a combination of water, alkali (potassium hydroxide), heat, and pressure, which produces a reaction that speeds up the body's decomposition. The entire process typically takes between three and 16 hours to complete. When finished, it leaves behind bone fragments and a sterile liquid.
What makes aquamation the more eco-friendly option is that it has no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury, no burning of fossil fuels, and uses less energy than flame-based cremation. The cost of aquamation is also similar to flame cremation.
Traditional flame cremation requires more energy than aquamation and emits toxic chemicals. It requires 760 to 980 Celsius temperatures, while aquamation requires temperatures of around 160 Celsius during the process. Flame cremation emits chemicals that increase its carbon footprints, such as carbon monoxide, embalming chemicals (e.g., formaldehyde), and mercury from dental fillings and body implants. The byproduct of aquamation is a sterile liquid that can be disposed of through the sewer or wastewater treatment system.
Although burials can have a more significant environmental impact, you can do things to help reduce it. The main differences between a green burial and a traditional burial are that green burials do not use embalming fluids or toxic chemicals, and bodies are buried in biodegradable caskets (e.g., wicker) or wrapped in a shroud made from biodegradable materials. This typeof burial allows the body to decompose naturally and incorporate back into the earth. The grave plots can be reused over time. Green burial plots are also not designed like traditional cemeteries, in that visitation is not usually encouraged or allowed. The plots, instead, become a space for plant and animal life.
If you do not want to commit fully to a green burial, you can add a green element to traditional burials using a biodegradable casket. Some popular options include simple wooden caskets, woven caskets, or a shroud.
Simple wooden caskets are made solely of wood, without metal, varnish, or glue. The benefit of these types of caskets is that they can be easily personalized and are accepted by most green burial sites.
Woven caskets are usually made out of wicker, bamboo, or willow but can also be made out of sugarcane or banana leaves. The benefits of these types of caskets are that they are often beautiful, unique, and well-made pieces. The material is also sturdier, making for easy transport of bodies.
A shroud is a piece of fabric used to wrap the body. Shrouds are made of many materials, including cotton, silk, muslin, wool, bamboo, or hemp. Shrouds are highly customizable. You can choose the fabric, colour, design and even have pockets for souvenirs. A shroud is also often a more preferred method for green burials as there are typically fewer resources used.
Another less traditional way to customize a shroud is by turning it into a mushroom burials suit. These suits are made by Coeio, a company founded by Jae Rhim Lee. The suits are a black-shroud lined with mushroom spores. The spores break down the cadaver and turns it into nutrient-rich soil. The company also claims that it filters out toxins from the bodies before they can reach the ground.
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Although urns can be made of eco-friendly materials, such as wood, they will often contain chemicals and treatments that allow them to last longer, making them less suitable for burials.
Green urns are environmentally friendly urns made of biodegradable material. These materials include paper, clay, plant material, bark, wood, sand, and other materials that will naturally decompose over time. This is a good option for people planning land or sea urn burials.
The choice of material will depend on what you intend to do with the ashes. For example, if you would like to bury the ashes at sea, it is a good idea to pick an urn made from a material that degrades more easily in water, such as paper or cardboard.
Although biodegradable materials will typically decompose regardless of burial medium, many manufacturers will pick materials better suited to burial locations. Alternatively, you can purchase decorative biodegradable urns made out of sustainable material that will typically not degrade until they come in contact with water or land. This also gives the option to bury it at a later date if you choose to.
A unique option is a biodegradable urn with seeds or tree seedlings. These urns are designed to convert the ashes into a tree. It can be an excellent option for those who would like to give back to the earth and sustainably memorialize a loved one.
The main benefit of eco-friendly burials is that they have less of an environmental impact. You also are not limited in your choices; you can choose a full green burial or simply choose an urn made out of more sustainable material. Regardless of what you choose, an eco-friendly choice is a great way to continue to help or give back to the environment, even in death.