Sustainable Funerals: Green Burial & Eco Practices

Sustainability has become a significant consideration in many aspects of our lives, from the foods we eat to the cars we drive. But what about the way we deal with death? Traditional burial and cremation practices often have significant environmental impacts, leading some to consider more sustainable options.

This article explores the concept of green burials and other eco-friendly death practices that strive to minimize our environmental footprint even in death.

Traditional Burial Practices and Their Environmental Impacts

Traditional burial practices, particularly in the Western world, often involve embalming the body with chemicals, using a casket made of metal or hardwood, and burying the deceased in a concrete or metal vault. These practices are resource-intensive and can have lasting impacts on the environment. Embalming fluids, primarily made of formaldehyde, are toxic and can leach into the soil. Hardwood caskets contribute to deforestation, and the process of mining metals for caskets and vaults can cause environmental degradation.

Cremation, while saving space, has its own environmental drawbacks. It requires a significant amount of energy and releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Furthermore, cremation doesn't utilize the potential nutrients in our bodies, which could otherwise return to the earth.

Green Burials: An Eco-friendly Alternative

Green burial is a practice designed to have minimal environmental impact. It often involves forgoing embalming, using biodegradable caskets or burial shrouds, and skipping the burial vault. Instead of traditional headstones, graves may be marked with natural stones, native plants, or not at all. Green burial grounds are often maintained as natural spaces, with land management practices that promote local biodiversity.

These practices allow the body to decompose naturally and contribute to the soil health, creating a 'life after life' scenario. Moreover, green burials can be cost-effective, as they avoid the costs of embalming, expensive caskets, and burial vaults.

Other Eco-friendly Death Practices

Beyond green burials, other eco-friendly death practices have been emerging. One example is alkaline hydrolysis, also known as water cremation or aquamation. In this process, the body is placed in a solution of water and potassium hydroxide and heated, accelerating the natural decomposition process. The remaining bone fragments can be returned to the family, similar to cremation ashes. Aquamation uses less energy than cremation and doesn't release pollutants into the air.

Another option is recomposition, a process that transforms human remains into soil. The body is placed in a vessel with organic materials like wood chips and straw, and over several weeks, microbial activity breaks down the body into nutrient-rich soil. Like green burials, recomposition allows the nutrients in our bodies to return to the earth.

Changing Attitudes and Legislation

The rise in interest in green burials and other eco-friendly death practices is prompting changes in attitudes and legislation. Many regions are now recognizing green burial as a legal option, and some are offering certification for green burial grounds. Laws are also changing to accommodate new practices like aquamation and recomposition, although availability varies widely.

Final Thoughts

As sustainability becomes a growing concern, more and more people are considering how their death can align with their values. Green burials and other eco-friendly death practices offer a way to minimize our environmental impact, even in death. As we continue to innovate and explore these practices, we have the opportunity to redefine our relationship with death and the natural world. While death is a universal part of the human experience, how we choose to approach it can be a powerful reflection of our individual values and our collective commitment to preserving the planet.