When considering what to do with your remains, you may think there are only two options - burial or cremation. However, neither option is particularly environmentally friendly.
Burial is arguably the worst option. According to Kelly MacLean in her January 2018 article, 7 Eco-Friendly Options for Your Body after Death, burials use an estimated
Some of that 4.3 million gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid likely leaks into the earth, polluting our water and soil.
Cremation, often considered the greener option, is not much better. MacLean suggests cremation may consume as much gas and electricity as a 500-mile road trip and may release around 250 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Some nontraditional, eco-friendly burial ideas are:
Aquamation (also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis) - a water-based alternative to traditional cremation has been legalized in about twenty states including Maryland. It uses a solution of water and potassium hydroxide or sodium heated to approximately 350 degrees Fahrenheit. At the end of the process, only the bone matter is left, which can be dried and crushed and given to your loved ones.
Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop, anti-apartheid leader, and environmental advocate, requested aquamation instead of cremation by fire likely because he knew that aquamation uses an estimated 90 percent less energy than cremation by fire. After the aquamation process was complete, his ashes were interred in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa
Mushroom Burial Sui
Actor Luke Perry, best known for his work on Beverly Hills, 90210 TV series, was buried in a specially made biodegradable mushroom suit after his organs were donated. While this may sound like a quirky celebrity antic, the creator of the mushroom burial suit says the mushroom spores that line this special suit are trained to consume dead human tissue.
Human remains contain toxins that are released into the atmosphere during cremation or through other methods of burial. Mushrooms can absorb and purify these toxins, resulting in a cleaner earth. After breaking down human tissue, the mushrooms conduct the nutrients from the body to fungi in the soil that then pass these nutrients on to trees.
If being buried in a mushroom suit is not your preferred method, you may want to consider a green burial. A green burial is a burial that does not use embalming fluids, toxic chemicals of any kind, or even a gas-guzzling machine to dig the grave. Instead, the green burial ground staff—or even your loved ones themselves—dig the grave by hand. Moreover, by using caskets made from biodegradable materials, such as wicker (and not using a cement burial vault), a green burial allows your body to decompose naturally. Alternatively, the casket can be eliminated completely, and the body can simply be buried in a cloth shroud.
Green burials occur in traditional cemeteries and in new cemeteries such as preservation sites (land trusts and nature preserves).
If you love the ocean, a sea burial may be perfect for you. Sea burials may be a more familiar eco-friendly option, as this method has been used for centuries by Vikings, pirates, and sailors. Today, sea burials may take the form of using a water-soluble urn or submerging a modified casket down to the ocean floor. More environmentally conscious sea burials may use natural burial shrouds or mix the person’s ashes with an eco-friendly concrete that is used to construct artificial reefs that foster aquatic life.
Recomposition, or body composting, is the process of converting human bodies into soil using natural means. The body is placed in a container with a mixture of wood chips, straw, and other organic materials that are then exposed to heat and oxygen to accelerate the decaying process. After about thirty days, the remains decompose into about a cubic yard of soil, which your loved ones can use in their gardens. Unfortunately, if you want to return to Mother Earth in this way, body composting is currently legal in only three states: Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. However, more states are considering legalizing the process, and body composting may soon gain in popularity.
Final Thoughts - Prepayment
Making decisions about the disposition of your remains can be an emotionally stressful experience for your loved ones. In the crisis of your demise, they are less likely to consider these better environmental alternatives. Therefore, you will want to prepay in advance for your funeral and burial arrangements to assist them. You will also want to make sure your preferences are expressed in your estate plan. A good estate plan serves your grieving loved ones and family at the time of your death and as they go on without you.