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Green Funerals : Recycling Our Remains

By: James Murray-White - Updated: 24 May 2013 | comments*Discuss
Green Funerals Coffins Embalming Fluids

As well as the way we live our lives, how we die and what happens to our bodies is also a significant environmental issue.

It is all very well greening our lifestyles, reducing our carbon and energy output, eating organic food and recycling as much as we can while we are alive, only to contribute to energy and chemical pollution after our death - this is not what most of us would want.

The problem with many conventional funeral arrangements is that in order to view bodies after our death, our remains are pumped full of unpleasant chemicals to keep the skin taut, and to replace the various fluids that start to leak from the body as soon as we take our final breath.

On top of this, many funeral caskets are made from highly varnished woods, and have many metal plates, handles and ornaments that contribute to environmental pollution over a long period of time once our bodies in our coffins are in the ground.

Add to this the carbon produced by transporting bodies, from hospitals to mortuaries and to the cemetery, often via the deceased's home for a final viewing, and the transport of the mourners and funeral attendees.

Death and Burial in Different Religious Traditions

Different religious groups have slightly different practices which can either lengthen or shorten the environmental impact of death. In Judaism for instance, there is a general rule that states that the deceased should be buried within 24 hours of their death. This cuts out much of the need for viewing of the body, and prevents any prolonged delays waiting for space or a slot at the cemetery.

Also, Jews are buried in a shroud, without the need for a fancy and elaborate coffin. There are no studies available about the environmental impact assessment of cemeteries, but burial in a shroud surely is better for the earth than a long-lasting coffin. With all the chemicals in the bodies (from the embalming process) and in the coffins, there are not many places for it all to escape to but downwards, through the layers of soil and clay, making cemeteries unusable land for hundreds of years

Delays in arrangements for funerals, in traditions such as Christianity for instance, can mean the body needs to be stored in a special refrigerator, which consumes energy, and will often be pumped full of embalming fluids and preservatives to keep the body stable.

Hinduism places emphasis on cremation, which as well as other faith groups who use this method, emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And for those who die in India, the huge funeral pyres built on the side of the holy river Ganges add up to further environmental pollution, despite the sanctity of the experience. How the cremated remains affects the great body of water that flows through India is another issue.

Alternatives: Greener Funerals

Over recent years, several alternatives to the traditional type of funerals have become more widely available across the UK.These include simpler caskets, some made from a strong form of cardboard, bamboo or hemp sacks and decorated with flowers or other natural materials if wanted.

These are all designed to break down rapidly in the soil, leaving no trace and certainly not leaving any environmental pollution which might turn up in generations to come in some form.

As a body is broken down in the soil, by the worms and bacteria that is both in the soil and naturally occurring within our bodies, so will our eco-friendly casket or hemp sack break down as well.

As the worms dissect our skin and hair and skull, our family and friends will know that our end and the final disassembling of our earthly remains was as green and as environmentally friendly as we would have wished, and in accordance with the green way we lived our life.

Other options include greener burial grounds, which often have a non-denominational focus, and are therefore available to people of all religious faiths and none. The emphasis at these places is always on planting trees in honour of the deceased, respecting the land, and encouraging wildlife to use the land and natural resources.

What a lovely way to remember a loved one, by visiting where they were buried, and see that a tree has been planted at their burial place, and to maybe see wild deer and hear the birds sing. This is a truly green alternative to the modern un-ecological form of funerals that many in the UK have become used to.

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