Green funerals: Six carbon footprints under
Since the human species has more or less successfully extricated itself from the food chain, death just isn’t eco-friendly anymore. The old ‘food for worms’ adage is no longer apt, since worms apparently don’t really fancy formaldehyde. Humans don’t like it in their drinking water either, oddly enough.
It seems that these days dying green can be even harder than living green. The modern funeral involves deforestation (in the form of expensive hardwood coffins), chemical pollution of groundwater and both toxic and greenhouse gas emissions from cremation.
According to an article in The Economist, an Australian study found that cremation produces about 160 kilos (350 lbs) of CO2. A 2008 paper published in the Journal of Environmental Health states that cremations account for as much as one fifth of the UK’s mercury emissions.
Standard burial procedures aren’t any better. In the long term, when factors such as plot care and land use are factored in, a burial produces even more CO2 than a cremation.
In contrast to many technology-fuelled environmental solutions of the day, the way to make funerals greener may lie with a return to the olden days. The logic is simple: let the body biodegrade in a casing that is similarly biodegradable.
Yet in societies accustomed to viewing embalmed, made-up bodies in expensive mahogany caskets, such solutions may be less than welcome. Thankfully there are already plenty of people who want to go out the natural way and their numbers are growing. In the UK there will soon be as many natural-burial grounds as there are crematoria. Other alterative methods include so-called ‘water cremation’, in which the body is dissolved in liquid and can later be used as fertilizer. A Swedish firm has even developed a method of freeze-drying your loved one’s remains and then shaking them into a powder. It’s called the ‘Swedish Shake’. Just kidding.
All this business of green funerals sounds a bit complicated, but in a world with increasingly less space and more people, perhaps radical solutions to the funeral dilemma will soon not seem so extreme.
When I go, feel free to use my corpse as biofuel or toss it in your compost heap. Just be sure to remove my fillings first.