Environmental Laboratory

How Eco-Friendly Is Death?

May 07 2018 Read 1061 Times

An increased awareness about the dangers of climate change has led to many of us measuring and trying to reduce our carbon footprint throughout our life… but what about after our death? The two most popular forms of the disposal of bodily remains after death are cremation and burial, but what impact do these have on the environment? And is there a better way?

The status quo

Unfortunately, both burial and cremation have a significantly detrimental impact on the environment. Burial involves embalming the body prior to its interment, which itself uses carcinogenic chemicals such as formaldehyde and phenol. What’s more, coffins are often constructed from precious resources such as endangered wood or mined metal, and the perseverance of plastic elements in the atmosphere spells bad news for the natural world, as well.

Cremation, on the other hand, uses an incredible amount of energy to dispose of a body – the equivalent of almost 5,000 miles in a passenger vehicle. Furthermore, it also releases a whole host of toxic gases such as carbon dioxide, mercury and dioxin into the atmosphere. While there are rigid compliance standards for mercury emissions at power plants and factories, these do not take into account crematoriums.

A greener way to go

On the plus side, many new and more environmentally-friendly ways of disposing of a body have sprung up in recent years to meet an eco-conscious demand. Here are a few of the options available for those wishing to find a greener way to go:

  • Natural burial. While science is continually coming up with innovative ways to remove plastic pollution from our atmosphere, the best solution would be to prevent it happening in the first place. A natural burial uses a biodegradable shroud or natural pine coffin in locations which aid natural decomposition.
  • Resomation. An alternative to cremation, resomation uses alkaline hydrolysis to dispose of human remains. The body is exposed to water and lye heated to 300° for three hours, after which time only powdery fragments remain. Though not currently available in the UK, investigations into the technique are ongoing.
  • Bio-urns. The Bio Urn is a unique receptacle for the ashes of a deceased loved one made from cellulose, coconut shell and compacted peat. What’s more, it also contains the seedling of a tree (of the departed’s choice) which will sprout into life after burial.
  • Eternal reef. By mixing the cremated remains of the deceased with an environmentally friendly cement substitute and then submerging the structure into the ocean, this artificial coral reef can simultaneously help the ongoing reef crisis and create a lasting tribute to one who has passed on. Mementos and personal messages can also be incorporated into the reef.
  • Composting a corpse. Promessa, an eco-friendly funeral company from Sweden, have developed a method of using liquid nitrogen and sound waves to freeze and then disintegrate a corpse into a nutrient-rich, fertile powder perfect for growing plants in the garden.     
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