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Worldwide, more than 50,000,000 people pass away each year. Traditional burial and cremation practices can have significant negative environmental impact, but green funerals and eco-burials are one way to lessen the impact. While death can be a difficult subject, keeping ethical beliefs and environmental convictions in mind while tending to end-of-life arrangements can create a meaningful send-off–not to mention a lower-impact one. After all, if you gotta go, why not go green?
That’s right the simple of act of dying is now not considered ecofriendly..
So what is the score here?
Ok lets consider to common methods of burial and the eco problems which come from them…
Embalming became popular in the United States during the Civil War and is still a significant source of groundwater pollution today. Arsenic gave way to the less toxic formaldehyde as the favored embalming solution around the turn of the last century. However, formaldehyde poisoning can still be fatal and it is classified as a human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Some estimates say that one million gallons of formaldehyde are buried in embalmed bodies each year in the United States. Almost all of this will eventually make its way into our water supplies. Efforts are underway to gradually replace formaldehyde with glutaraldehyde, which is considered less toxic.
Cremation causes nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, heavy metals and particulates to be released into the atmosphere when a body is cremated. If a body has mercury-amalgam fillings, the mercury will almost certainly become air pollution unless the fillings are removed first. Burning a body inside a coffin also creates significantly more pollution than burning the body by itself. Modern crematoriums often have ‘clean smokestacks’ that ameliorate the associated emissions, at least to some degree, and the cremation industry has claimed that reports of pollution have been greatly exaggerated.
And it doesn’t stop at the way we bury people modern medicine has added a multitude of objects into our bodies to provide us with prolonged life as well as the wood we use to make caskets and assorted objects within that casket..
Now normally I wouldn’t post stuff like this, however a recent BBC Radio broadcast One Planet covered the subject and peaked my interest.
Turns out Green Funerals are the next big thing in burying your loved ones, and keeping the environment safe, one of the most interesting articles i dug up was on the aptly named treehugger.com and covered the reclaiming of materials after a cremation.
According to the Scotsman, metal surgical pins and joints found in the ashes of cremated bodies are to be recycled under a new scheme in North Somerset, England. The council has introduced a plan to recycle the metal pins, plates and artificial joints. Soft and precious metals in jewellery melt during the cremation process and form part of the ashes so they cannot be recovered or recycled.A council spokesman said: “Crematorium staff will seek the consent of the bereaved to sensitively recycle the metals rather than dispose of them. The metals can be returned to the family if they wish.”
The metals will be recycled in an environmentally friendly manner, according the council spokesman, and the scheme will have no cost to the council and no commercial gain will be made. [by Justin Thomas]
As well as being actually a fairly obvious thing to do because of the metal there is also money being made in recycling here as well.
The obvious thing which comes to mind is the simple fact that even thinking about making a decision to have a green funeral at this sort of time is not something which is going to cross most peoples minds. So again Treehugger.com has a few tips to assist the process.
- Define Your Wishes:Add a clause in your will or create an advanced funeral wishes document that stipulates your green funeral concerns. Consider including a copy of this guide with your instructions.
- Cremate Your RemainsOn the face of it, cremation doesn’t seem like a particularly green idea. Burning anything creates pollution, especially if there are toxic substances present (via embalming, for example), and returning nutrients to the ecosystem via decomposing matter is a core tenet of environmental thinking. That said, modern crematoriums have made significant reductions in emissions. Plus, as many cemeteries, particularly in the U.S., have rules and regulations stipulating the use of concrete vaults, coffins, and other such requirements that use significant resources and space, becoming one with nature isn’t as straightforward and simple (or quick) as it may seem. Cremation, therefore, may make more sense from a green perspective, after all. If it seems like the right choice to you, you can ask the crematorium about what they are doing to reduce emissions.
- Bury Your Remains Ultimately, our remains are part of the food chain. Unfortunately, many of the trappings of modern burial–such as embalming, hardwood coffins, and concrete vaults–are designed to delay the natural process of decomposition. Though these ideas have become modern standards, the truth is that anything we can do to return to the earth more easily will lessen our impact on the environment.
- The Ultimate Recycling We’ve already suggested that using biodegradable coffins or urns, and avoiding concrete vaults, can help reduce our impact by returning our remains to the earth. However, some folks are taking this even further by finding safe ways to literally compost human remains.
While reading up on this however yes there are obvious examples of how you can do the right thing there seems to be a lack of documented facts and figures as to just how much negative effect those 55million dead bodies are actually having on the environment.
While i’m not in disagreement with any of the suggestions on the sites i’d like to also see some of the ideas backed up with facts and figures.the few figures i could find were…
- 56 million: The approximate number of people that die each year around the globe.
- 50 million: Trees that are cut down in India each year for funeral pyres. This releases 8 million tons of carbon dioxide.
- 200: The number of green and woodland burial sites in the U.K.
- Up to 16 percent: Mercury emissions in the U.K. that come from crematoria because of the fillings in teeth. This percentage is expected to increase to 25 percent by 2020.
- 1.6 million: Tons of reinforced concrete buried in the U.S. each year in the construction of vaults.
I’ll be looking into this more for my own self.. and doing some more research.. and reading up on this idea..
Eternal reefs (www.eternalreefs.com) which provides the option for your cremated remains to become part of a constructed coral reef. In this case, the physical remains are pretty much the same as any cremated remains — wasting energy and fossil fuels. The difference is that they leverage the desire for that person’s remains to live on into funding for reviving reef habitat. And, it’s significantly easier, because cremation, as opposed to composting, is already socially accepted.