Green in Life, Green in Death

The world in our hands

The impact of lockdown gave us all a chance to step back and re-evaluate our lives. How wonderful was it to have fewer cars on the road and to hear the birds sing? The skies seemed bluer and the air was definitely cleaner. No shops, no buying, less waste and better still our bank balances weren’t being drained. So if we can see the changes we can make in life, what about in death?

Can I have an Eco-friendly Funeral?

The answer is we can all play our part, with just a little bit of research and thinking outside the box! It is possible.

Many people want to reduce the environmental impact of their deathcare decisions. We want to minimise as much as possible the use of finite raw materials, land use that impacts on biodiversity, and the emission of harmful agents. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.  We all have different needs, beliefs and cultural traditions and these should be respected, but everyone can do something and lots of small actions can add up to make a big difference.

For example, choose from the wonderful selection of biodegradable coffins, urns and shrouds made from sustainable materials. Consider a local natural burial ground. Think electric – use an electric hearse or find a crematorium with an electric cremator which has a lower carbon footprint. Choose local stone for memorials and headstones to minimise the environmental impact of transportation. Avoid embalming with formaldehyde, which can pollute the soil. 

Here are some of the other options that are available now, or will be in the future…. 

Heat a Swimming Pool

Redditch Borough Council made waves when they decided to use the waste heat generated in the cremation process at Redditch Crematorium to heat the local swimming pool. This clever scheme at Abbey Stadium leisure centre won it a National Green Apple Award in 2013 from The Green Organsation.

Capture Your own Carbon with a ‘Green’ Burial

Requests for ‘green’, or natural burials have grown in recent years as people look for ways to reduce the environmental impact of modern funerals. There are now nearly 300 natural burial sites in the UK, set in flower meadows, nature reserves and woodland settings. Only biodegradable materials are allowed and the body decomposes at a natural pace and becomes part of the landscape.

Rosie Inman-Cook from The Natural Death Centre says ‘with climate change, the time could not be more right for promoting natural burials. The authorities are beginning to recognise this but more needs to be done. Demand and availability is increasing throughout the UK, but people need to be clear with their funeral director that this is what they want.’

Or is Human Composting the Way Forward

One for the future is human composting. Approved in Washington State, but still not available elsewhere, Recompose Life see this as a viable alternative to other ‘deathcare’ options. Microbes, oxygen and plant matter combine to gently convert human remains to soil.

Perhaps Mushrooms Could be the Answer?

If you want to follow in the footsteps of Luke Perry and wear a completely biodegradable mushroom suit that not only removes toxins from the body, has zero waste and also delivers nutrients back into the soil fostering new life, then have a look at coeio’s infinity mushroom suit. It may not be for everyone but we must never ignore something that can help save the planet.

Have a Water Cremation

This eco-friendly process, named Resomation (from the Greek word ‘resoma’ meaning rebirth of the body) by Resomation Limited, the UK company which is developing the technology, is already permitted in some parts of Canada and 24 states in the USA, as well as Australia and South Africa. It will be made legal this year in the Netherlands and the UK is not far behind, with multiple sites at approval stage and ready to go in the near future.

With ‘alkaline hydrolysis’, the body is not in fact cremated, since no combustion takes place, but is gently resolved back to its building blocks in a heated liquid containing a small amount (5%) of potassium hydroxide.  The final liquid is water like, sterile and DNA free. The soft bone remains that are left are then processed to a fine white powder, as happens after flame cremation, and ends up just like ashes but pure white and around 25% more. As with flame cremation, these ashes are returned to the families in an urn.  The filtered water can be used in a number of ways and any substances that don’t dissolve (such as fillings and medical devices) can be collected for reuse or recycling as appropriate.

Independent analysis shows that its ‘lifecycle’ carbon footprint is significantly lower than conventional burial and flame cremation and it uses a seventh of the energy of the latter.  Indeed, a report submitted to the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations in the Netherlands in May 2020 looking into ‘The admissibility of new techniques of disposing of the dead‘ found that alkaline hydrolysis clearly met their three main criteria for acceptance of a new technique for the disposal of the dead – safety, dignity and sustainability. The report concluded that ‘alkaline hydrolysis compares favourably to burial and cremation’. Installation of their first water cremator is underway.

Sandy Sullivan, founder of Resomation Limited, says that not only is it an environmentally sound option, but that people choose it because it feels like a much ‘gentler’ alternative to flame cremation too.

Become a Tree or a Plant

How wonderful would it be to become a tree in a lush green forest surrounded by nature? Capsula Mundi are developing a biodegradable egg shaped pod, in which the departed is encased and then planted to become the tree of choice.

Capsuli Mundi – an insight into Burial Pods

Or perhaps Bios Living Urn which combines a loved one’s ashes with a root protect agent in a 100% biodegradable urn to help germinate a seed or tree of your choice. Easy to plant, it will grow into a loving, living memorial.

Plant a ‘Carbon Offset’ Tree

At a click of a button and for just a £1 you can plant a tree to offset the carbon footprint from your funeral.

Helping Forensic Scientists After Your Death

For the purpose of criminal investigation, the UK’s forensic research needs help to understand more about the decompostion of the human body. It is looking at following in America’s footsteps, where donated bodies are taken to selected sites and left to decompose in order to generate data on tissue and bone degradation under controlled conditions.  According to an article in the Nature Journal in May 2019, plans for a forensic cemetery (also known as a taphonomy facility) are at an advanced stage and volunteers are needed. Not for everyone, but eco-friendly and it helps the scientific community too.

Quick Points: How to Have a Green Funeral

  • If possible, don’t embalm the body.
  • Look at the wonderful range of eco coffins and urns made from wool, wicker, cardboard and other 100% biodegradable materials.
  • Think about electric transport and minimise travel.
  • Go digital – you can now live-stream the ceremony to friends and family all over the world.
  • Use local stone for memorials or headstones.
  • Have a green burial in a woodland setting with no memorialisation.
  • Be creative with floral tributes, both at the funeral and for memorialisation too. Plant trees and shrubs, use locally grown flowers or pick them from your garden.
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