Learn how green burials and other eco-friendly options can create a beautiful send-off for a loved one.
We explain below how traditional funerals can be damaging to the environment and suggest five options that you can choose from to make your loved one’s send-off greener and friendlier to our precious planet.
Research published by the Berkeley Planning Journal found that in the US alone, traditional burials account for tons of hardwoods, many tons of copper and bronze, thousands of tons of steel, and over a million tons of reinforced concrete every year. It’s believed that the wood used for caskets – the equivalent of around 4 million acres of forest – could build in the region of 4.5 million homes. Then there’s the toxic compounds used in the embalming process to consider as these affect the health of the humans who work with them, and the soil where they are buried.
Similarly, memorial parks often see hardwood or metal caskets placed into concrete vaults that occupy vast, manicured parklands that require a substantial amount of water, fertilizers, and pesticides to maintain. Such parks and cemeteries are thought to account for as many as one million acres of US land.
Cremations are generally considered more sustainable send-offs, but they’re not without environmental cost either. A report published by the Sydney Morning Herald found that burials at Adelaide’s Centennial Park generated about 39 kilograms of carbon dioxide versus 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide per cremation. So each cremation requires the equivalent amount of power that an average person gets through in an entire month. Unlike burials, cremations also release harmful gases and heavy metals into the atmosphere.
A UK study concluded converting from gas to electricity would cut the carbon footprint of the cremation industry by up to 50%, rising to 80% if using renewable power. However, such cremations would still have larger carbon footprints than traditional burials. Little wonder that green burials are on the rise.
Meeting the public’s ever-growing demand to leave less of a carbon footprint as they depart the world, the funeral industry, local government and councils are all starting to offer an ever-expanding range of environmental options such as biodegradable caskets, natural burials, and tree-planting.
It’s also important to consider such things as dressing the body in biodegradable clothing such as wool or cotton, opting for funeral caterers that source their produce locally, using recycled paper for memorial cards, and swapping paper for email or social media announcements where possible.
Biodegradable caskets lack metal handles and are fashioned from the likes of cardboard, willow, bamboo, wool, or banana leaf. They are not only kinder to the environment but can be specially decorated with words and images to honour loved ones. Some people like to write personal messages on the caskets following the service. They are also generally substantially less expensive than traditional caskets.
Specially designated natural burial cemeteries use shallower graves for speedier decomposition and natural regeneration of forest land above the burial spots.
The eco-friendly mushroom – or infinity – burial suit can make a natural burial even greener thanks to its biodegradable construction that incorporates mushroom spores and other microorganisms. These aid decomposition and clean the body of toxins that would otherwise leach into the soil.
Depending on your state or country, to have a green burial you may also be required to ensure that the body has not been embalmed using the traditional chemical cocktail that contains toxins, irritants, and carcinogens like formaldehyde – of which an estimated 800,000 gallons are put into the ground each year in the US via burials. Regardless of legal requirements, most people that choose a green burial are likely to opt for procedures that use less concentrated solutions, or no solution at all, though these options will reduce preservation and thereby the viewing window timeframe.
Like the caskets, biodegradable urns are crafted from papier mache or sustainable woods such as bamboo so they will naturally break down. Another popular – and rather beautiful – option is the floating water urn, designed to dissolve and scatter ashes within the water. Imaginative designs often incorporate water or ocean themes like shells, lilies, or turtles.
Tree pod burials take the idea of biodegradable caskets and urns one step further by way of eco-friendly ‘seeds’ which allow either a body (placed in the foetal position) or ashes to be placed inside to be buried and sustain a tree above.
Cremations can also be made greener thanks to the magic of trees. Various carbon offsetting organizations around the world help mitigate climate change by developing and supporting sustainable forests. These forests have the added benefits of helping protect local water supplies and wildlife and creating recreation opportunities for the public by way of nature walks and bike tracks.
Memorial trees are a popular way of helping facilitate this, with trees planted in the name of deceased loved ones.
Better Place Forests in the USA provide a holistic green burial service that supports families with their end-of-life arrangements while “conserving and protecting natural areas.” Their memorial tree service allows ashes to be mixed with local soils and returned to the base of the tree, allowing cremated remains to become part of the forest to create “a lasting, living memorial.”
Never are our personal beliefs, faith or philosophies tested as much as when we lose someone dear; grief is, after all, the price we pay for love.
Let our last act be that of love for Mother Nature by normalizing green burials. It’s time to spread the good word.
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