Top Five Environmentally Friendly Burials
“You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth …”—Chief Seattle
Guess I lead a sheltered life, because until recently I thought there were basically two burial options: traditional casket burial in an above or below ground cemetery or an cremation where remains could be scattered or placed in a keepsake urn. Then I read a Sept. 5, 2008, Scientific American article that attributes “30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid” along with thousands of acres of land used annually for conventional burial methods. The cremation incineration process has its own environmental downside, as it emits toxic substances such as dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as mercury when cremation is performed on a person having dental amalgam fillings.
Simplicity has always suited me just fine, and I had been completely satisfied with having only two burial choices until reading this article. Intrigued by the idea that there were alternative, greener ways to be laid to rest, I began Googling to see what new methods might be out there. Here are the top five green burial alternatives found during that search:
1. Eternal Reefs—These reefs are made of cast concrete that can include the cremated remains of loved ones and are placed in the ocean as a 100 percent pH-balanced marine habitat for fish and other sea life. Family members and friends are allowed to participate in the casting of the Memorial Reef and can place handprints or inscribe messages in the wet concrete, which can be a valuable step for those trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. These reefs are designed to last over 500 years.
2. Wicker and Other Biodegradable Caskets—Wicker caskets are hand woven from all natural and fully biodegradable materials such as bamboo, banana, pandanus, and willow. There are also caskets made of solid pinewood that are free from stains, varnishes and oils, plastic, or metal components. One of the caskets, called the Ecopod, is made from naturally hardened, 100 percent recycled paper with a non-toxic natural hardener is actually quite beautiful looking.
3. Promession—Rather than cremation by incineration where toxic gases are released into the environment, there is a relatively new technique where a loved one’s body is frozen to -196C in liquid nitrogen and then shaken until it disintegrates into powder. At that point, amalgam fillings, medical devices, and other potential contaminants are removed. This process is called “promession,” and has seen increasing interest in Europe where land is becoming less available for cemetery expansion. Not yet available in the U.S.
4. Biodegradable Urns—These urns are made of biodegradable materials allowing minerals and nutrients to return to either the Earth or sea. At sea, the urn will float momentarily and slowly sink fully degrading in approximately two to three days; on land, it will take around a year or less depending on climate for the urn to degrade.
5. Ashes to Diamonds—This is a process whereby high-quality diamonds are created from the carbon of your loved one. The diamonds come in a variety of colors and are molecularly identical to natural diamonds that you might find in a high-quality jewelry store.
*Most of the methods above are available for pet burial as well.