At present, the world generates almost 1.2 billion tonnes of waste every year; and only 1-2% of it is composted or recycled. We’re a wasteful bunch, and it seems to be no different when it comes to the environmental impact of death.
It’s frequently reported that the world is running out of burial space. It’s expected that England will run out in less than 20 years. While cremation might save space, it takes 127 litres of fuel to burn a body, which emits 245kg of carbon dioxide.
Even cut flowers – a common offering at western funerals – carry a high environmental cost, plus the cost of under-paid and under-protected workers. Then add on the air miles of flowers that don’t grow natively, production cost and use of resources for caskets, travel for guests to attend, and the carbon footprint of dying quickly adds up.
But green burials are on the rise, as more and more people face up to the environmental cost of their own demise. We are naturally biodegradable, after all. It’s simply a case of implementing measures ahead of time to reduce the impact of your death.
Burial versus Cremation
In our western culture, burial and cremation are the two primary choices for laying the dead to rest. But there are ways to alter these traditional practices to make them a little friendlier to the environment.
For instance, embalming is not necessary for all burials, and skipping this step can prevent the use of formaldehyde-based embalming fluids that are damaging for the environment. And did you know that lacquer on caskets inhibits biodegrading? Instead, choose a biodegradable casket made from bamboo, banana cord, or even cardboard.
Alternatively, go the whole nine yards and plan a Green Burial. This is the practice of burial with little to no environmental impact; it “necessitates the use of non-toxic and biodegradable materials.” This excludes concrete and metal, and often means the deceased is buried without a grave marker. This means that the land can eventually be reused for any purpose.
When it comes to cremation, it’s always going to be a challenge to burn things without causing emissions and using fuel. But some clever people have worked out that it’s not just fire that does the job. The new practice of chemical cremation, or bio cremation, saves on scarce fuels. Caskets are not burned, further saving resources. And the process has four times less carbon impact than traditional flame cremation, with no harmful by-products or need to remove pacemakers or implants (presenting the potential for recycling essential medical equipment).
Reducing Carbon Footprint
Of course, celebrating the life and death of a loved one is so much more than simply disposing of a body. But making your wishes known in life can ensure a greener celebration in death.
We’ve already mentioned the environmental impact of cut flowers. Consider requesting a charitable donation over flowers, which has the dual benefit of reducing your carbon cost and supporting a worthy cause. It may also be possible to encourage guests to car-share, or even take public transport to the service.
Additionally, filling a buffet with locally sourced food from a sustainable provider can limit the environmental impact. Consider even providing only vegetarian or vegan food; since livestock production produces more greenhouse gases than grains, vegetables or fruits.
Have we missed anything? Send us a Tweet at @OfficialSILB and let us know if you have any tips for a greener funeral.