How Green is your Funeral?
These times of the climate emergency, mean sustainability is paramount. So, how green is your funeral? It is quite easy to think of a multitude of ways we can help limit our carbon footprint. Doing those everyday things a little greener, like recycling our waste or, taking a reusable cup when we go out, simple swaps we all can do. From driving and flying less, to eating less meat, or buying second hand clothes and using recycled furniture; all these things are important in terms of reducing our effects of global warming. But what about limiting our impact on the planet once we are no longer living? How much thought have you given to what happens after you die? It seems a little futile to spend a lifetime trying to reduce your carbon footprint, only to undo all that good at the very end.
Death is not an easy subject and it’s’ not something we Brits like to think about – we don’t talk about it when were here, so how would we expect others to talk about it after we are gone. That’s why I’ve done some of the leg work for you to lay out a few options. Below I set out some of the different ways of disposing of your body, highlighting the impacts and benefits on the planet.
How green is your funeral – Burial?
There are no two ways about it – burial takes up a lot of ground, something in the UK we don’t have much of. A straight-forward burial in a cemetery can also leave the ground full of all sorts of things that will take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to decompose. Not to mention the effect that embalming fluid and remnants of various boob jobs, hip replacements, pacemakers etc will have. You get the picture, much of what burials leave behind will still be there in millennia from now! So what alternatives do we have?
How green is your funeral – Cremation?
Now, cremations do away with the need for space, big tick but the cremation process is not without its unsustainable issues. Cremations are often viewed as a cheaper alternative to burials and in the UK the vast majority of people are now using cremation as the go-to option for the end of their life.
However, cremation by its very nature uses huge amounts of energy whilst releasing vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention mercury and other pollutants. Just one cremation uses as much energy (in the form of gas and electricity) as a 500 mile car journey! According to the statistics published by the Cremation Society there were a staggering 472,302 cremations in the UK in 2019 – that my friend, is an inordinate amount of car miles – 236,151,000 to be exact!!!!
While many crematoriums have gone some way in trying to reduce their carbon emissions, there is no getting away from the fact that they still have to burn fossil fuels in the process! We can see from the numbers above, that this is no small thing in terms of contributing to global warming!
So what’s the alternative? There are a couple – so read on to hear about a few…
Eco Friendly Alternative’s – Green Burials
Things are definitely better with a natural green burial but you have to seek out certified places. To get a truly green burial there are restrictions which must be adhered to. You have to think carefully about the impact of what will be going into the ground in order not to upset the ecosphere. Undoubtedly, green burials (perhaps using a shroud or eco-friendly coffin) will have less impact on the environment. Natural Burial grounds are often peaceful and beautiful places to visit afterwards, but bear in mind there will not be a head stone or monument marking the spot, as the idea is to leave no trace. Clandon Wood Nature Reserve and Natural Burial Ground is a lovely local green burial site here in Surrey, see my previous blog for an interview with the founder.
Resomation – Water Cremation
Resomation is cremation using water! “What?!” you say “that makes no sense at all!. Yup, I know it sounds a bit bonkers but that’s pretty much what it is, so here are the details.
Resomation is the process by which bodies are placed inside a pressurised canister containing water and potassium hydroxide solution. This is then heated to a temperature of 160 degrees Celsius for four hours. During this time the body will ‘dissolve ’ leaving only soft grey bones. “Ew!” I hear you say, but stick with me on this! The bones are then dried and ground leaving a paper white powder which can be given to the family at the end of the process in much the same way as ashes, after a flame cremation.
See, it wasn’t that bad in the end was it?
Eco Friendly Alternative’s – Resomation?
So how do the green credentials stack up? Sandy Sullivan, founder of Leeds Resomation states that “It [Resomation] uses seven times less energy than traditional burial and has six times less carbon footprint.” He goes on to say in an article in the Guardian: “we’re reaching a climate catastrophe and yet we’re still burning bodies!”. The Resomation website claims that by substituting water cremation for flame cremation, funeral greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by approximately 35%.
Whilst all of this looks to be a step in the right direction it has not been without its teething problems here in the UK. Across the pond however, things are a little further forward. Resomation has been available in 19 of the 50 United States since the 1990’s. The technique was initially developed to deal with cattle after a ten year long epidemic of foot and mouth disease.
The latest press release in the UK in March 2020 states that Yorkshire Water have now, finally granted discharge consent. This would allow the water from the Resomation process to be discharged into treatment plants. This might feel a bit weird to some but if you think about all the other things which end up in our sewers, Resomation should really be the least of your worries! Of course it’s something new and people don’t like change, but if you are really serious about your final carbon footprint this might just be the way forward!
Eco Friendly Alternative’s – Human Composting?
“There’s no such thing” I here you cry! Well, let me tell you it most definitely is a thing and it could be a great alternative.
Katrina Spade (I kid you not!) founder of Recompose, an American company, was granted permission to begin human composting earlier this year. Their website explains that they use a process called Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) to gently transform human remains into soil, this soil can then be used to regenerate the earth. They go on to suggest that for every one person who uses this method of disposal as opposed to cremation one metric ton of carbon dioxide is prevented from entering the atmosphere. The whole process uses just an eighth of the energy needed compared to conventional burial and cremation. They add that this method allows you to finally, “strengthen the environment rather than deplete it”.
But hang on a minute, how does this differ from a green burial?
Not buried but placed in a reusable ‘vessel’!
The biggest difference is that the body is not buried in this process at all but is placed in a reusable ‘vessel’ and subjected to NOR. This process creates an environment where beneficial microbes thrive under specific conditions, enabling the transformation of the body into useful compost in just 30 days!
A green burial would take longer than this (although nowhere as long as a traditional burial) where the body is typically placed 6 feet or more underground, thereby inhibiting the natural microbial processes.
The inorganic matter left at the end of the human composting (pacemakers, hip and knee joints etc.) are sifted out and recycled where possible! This concept could most definitely be the way forward, providing both a low carbon footprint and offering nutrient-rich soil to replenish our Earths much depleted supply.
Great Legacy to Leave Behind!
If only we could get over ourselves and start to think differently about our own personal disposal. Maybe then we might begin to entertain ideas that we can do some good for the Earth, not only while we are alive but even after our death. Now that really would be a great legacy to leave behind!
If you are thinking of planning your own or someone else’s Green Funeral please do get in touch to discuss your options further – there is no time like the present!
Please do let me know if you have any questions or heard of other options that I have not mentioned here.
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