Planning an eco-friendly funeral
Like solar panels and succulent house plants, making sure your funeral will be kind on the environment is just another lifestyle choice that’s gaining popularity. But even if we’d like to, due to the law in the UK, we can’t all be wrapped up in a biodegradable sheet and tossed on the compost heap. We can, though, decide on eco-friendly options when it comes to a funeral. From not opting for embalming or getting your body dissolved in alkaline to more subtle ways of going green, read on to find out how you can plan an environmentally friendly funeral.
Is burial greener than cremation?
Taking an inside look at burial and cremation, on the surface of things there isn’t much difference in their green credentials. It really depends on whether you opt for embalming, a heavy-duty coffin that’s going to take a millennia for its materials to break down or if you’ve got tooth fillings or not.
A cremation uses 35 kilowatt hours of electricity. The carbon emissions from a cremation stand at 400kg of CO2 per body, and a load of mercury is released from tooth fillings. In 2003, it was estimated that crematoria in the UK produced 1.34 tonnes of mercury from tooth fillings.
If you opt for embalming, then a burial can use up to 3 gallons of embalming fluid – a potent concoction which includes large amounts of formaldehyde. Embalming fluid can disrupt surrounding soil and ecosystems. If you would like to know more about embalming, take a look at our article here. Materials used to make coffins such as MDF, wood and brass will take years to finally break down, too.
The eco alternatives to traditional burial and cremation
The great thing about going green is the opportunity to think outside the box. It might be that you forget about choosing between burial or cremation altogether. Planning an environmentally friendly funeral doesn’t just mean wearing a flower tiara and being buried under a tree while someone with a beard plays a fiddle. Ditch the (wooden) box completely by instead embracing new technologies and methods of burial.
The environmentally friendly natural burial
With a natural burial, the body is placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud and buried in woodland to speed up natural decomposition. To be buried at a natural site, you’ll have to do without headstones, embalming and materials that affect the soil. If a natural burial site is a member of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds, they’ll make sure you become part of the existing environment, helping to preserve wildlife habitats.
It’s not as frowned upon nor as technically illegal as the compost heap option. It’s a lot nicer for your loved ones to look at, too.
New green funeral tech
Resomation uses alkaline hydrolysis to break down the body chemically. This reduces a funeral’s greenhouse gas emission by about 35%, according to the people behind Resomation. While being dissolved in an alkaline solution may be what you read in science fiction novels (the ones where it never ends well), this method simply uses a water solution rather than CO2 to leave you in bone fragments.
Other greener forms of burial include encasing your body in a pod which will eventually sprout into a tree. Nothing says ‘green’ more than literally turning into a plant. Even though this idea is still under development, being open to new eco ideas only fuels their improvement.
Smaller eco-funeral solutions
If you still want an eco funeral but you don’t want to go entirely green, then have a look at the smaller ways to make your funeral environmentally friendly.
Make your own coffin
This isn’t another IKEA PR stunt. This is you taking control of death and literally getting to grips with it. You can either start from scratch or go down the easier DIY route where you only need to nail a few planks together. By doing away with plastic, metal as well as the emissions and waste created by manufacturing and delivering a coffin, the easy-to-assemble option is one way of keeping your funeral green.
Tired of waiting for death? Use your handmade coffin as an alternative to a coffee table, bookcase or cupboard in the meantime.
Invest in a biodegradable coffin
Seagrass, bamboo, willow – no, this is not a recipe for your next juice cleanse. Instead, these are just some of the completely biodegradable materials that are now used to make coffins. Relatively cheaper than traditional coffins made from MDF and brass, by being wrapped in these materials you’ll also decay quicker. Result.
Alternatively, you could use a body bag. These aren’t just for pathology departments or the very well-prepared. They can also be a cheap alternative to all that plywood, plastic and toxic glue.
By using services near to you, you’re not just helping small independent businesses, you’re also cutting down on the amount of fuel, packaging and overseas manoeuvring involved with sourcing stuff for a funeral.
While you’re at it, why not think about using locally sourced ingredients at the reception. No one likes to see a load of plastic waste at the end of an otherwise great funeral. You could check out a local food directory, or use the funeral as an excuse to make others try out your homemade pie.
Scoring eco points doesn’t need to dampen a good time – shop around the microbrewery world to find local ales, too.
Ditch the flowers
They say everything we love is usually bad for us. And, unfortunately, that’s equally true of a nice bunch of freesias. Think about planting a tree or small bush in remembrance, instead – anything that will grow and live on. Or let the Woodland Trust take care of that for you by dedicating one of the many ancient trees to a loved one.
Death-clean and declutter the eco way
It’s not just worth thinking about a green funeral. Think about how green your death-going will be. If you will be leaving a load of books, clothes or your extensive plastic toy figurine collection behind, then you might want to think about where that can go. An eco-friendly option would be to use projects such as Street Bank which will re-home the things you no longer need. Be sure to read our article on death cleaning and what it means here.
Ashes to ashes, dust to … biodegradable seagrass
As we gradually begin to lead greener lives, it follows that we should also plan for our eco-death. With around 150,000 deaths happening around the world everyday, it seems necessary to at least tweak a few of our unsustainable funeral habits. What are you waiting for? Get the organic wine out and start planning.