Green Tips: Eco-friendly Funerals

Green Tips | September 27, 2018

While death may not be the most pleasant topic to think about, it’s important to consider how your final farewell may impact the environment. The New York Times published an article on green funerals earlier this year, so we thought we’d pass this information onto you.

Each year over one million pounds of metal and concrete is used to preserve the dead; one cremation could use about 2 SUV tanks’ worth of fuel. The amount of wood used in cremations would cover the whole of New Jersey.

Embalming chemicals and transportation fumes also impact the environment. Cremation facilities create mercury and carbon dioxide in large quantities. Cemeteries actually consume fertilizers and huge amounts of water.

So how do you make the best decision regarding end-of-life planning for you or a loved one? Here are some tips for reducing your funeral footprint:

Host an evening “Returning to Earth” get-together. Invite friends and family for conversations about facing death. You may be surprised by the number of people who think about this topic. Having these conversations together may alleviate some of the dread associated with it.

Consider not embalming the body.  Embalming involves the use of chemicals, including formaldehyde, which are harmful to the environment. The myth that embalming can help preserve the beauty of the body has no truth to it. The temperature and the final resting place have more to do with decomposition than the embalming process. If you are interested in preserving the body for a short period of time, ask the funeral home whether the body can be refrigerated.

Consider an alternate container to the ornate casket.  Approximately 90,000 tons of steel are used annually in the US to make caskets. Steel production consumes a large amount of energy and also emits harmful greenhouse gases. Consider using a bamboo, wicker, or willow casket instead. Find information on natural caskets here and here.

A coffin is not mandatory. A natural burial, in which the body is placed in the earth with no coffin, is considered the greenest burial option. Consider eliminating a coffin entirely and burying the body in the natural soil using biodegradable shrouds. This allows the body to decompose and mingle with the earth.

Consider a bicycle hearse. The transportation sector is the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for more than 25% of emissions nationwide. We are aware of one funeral home offers a bicycle hearse to bring loved ones to their final resting place.

Opt for green burial grounds or cemeteries. Green burial grounds are often found near national parks or natural forest areas.  These grounds are managed in a way that reduces impact to the environment. Find a list of eco-friendly cemeteries here and here.

Consider a home burial. In New York, a family can choose to bypass funeral home services altogether and dig a small burial ground to bury a loved one.

Cremation vs. burial. Cremation is considered to be less detrimental to the environment than traditional burials because the process uses fewer natural resources. Cremations don’t require vast amounts of land, coffins, and don’t leave behind harmful chemicals used in embalming. Biodegradable cremation urns are also available. It is important to note that traditional cremations still do burn some fossil fuels and release harmful gases like carbon monoxide into the environment.

Consider a bio-cremation. As green burials are more viable for the environment, so are bio-cremations, which involves the submerging of the body in water to dissolve most of the body. Metal implants like dental fillings or screws used in knee replacements do not dissolve. This method is considered to be the most eco-friendly and is already legal in 16 states in the U.S.

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