These days, eco-conscious decisions can be found in just about every industry. Across the U.S., more and more people are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, limit their pollution, recycle more often, compost their biodegradable trash, and drive in electric cars – or just bike. The funeral industry is no different: Families have begun seeking alternative methods for honoring loved ones through traditional burial for a number of reasons. As it turns out, typical coffin burial is a bigger environmental burden than it might sound.
Space Is An Issue
To start off, there simply won’t be enough room for everyone to have his or her own own plot of land at the cemetery. Old cemeteries are filling up fast – communities are either expanding those or building new ones. Remember, that means a significant amount of water use, land-clearing, and potential habitat loss for animals.
“Embalming chemicals accompany the body into burial.”
Embalming Fluids Leak Into The Ground
When a body is embalmed for an open casket funeral or transportation, those chemicals accompany the body into burial. Then, over time, toxins like formaldehyde, phenol, methanol and others seep into the ground – formaldehyde, in particular, is a potential carcinogen that can be lethal to humans with overexposure. According to the University of California, Berkeley, 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde are buried in the ground in traditional burials every year in the U.S.
Traditional Burials Waste Resources
Many coffins are made of mahogany, an expensive wood that comes from an endangered tree in the rainforest, according to The Guardian. Because the wood will be buried in the earth, there are more sustainable materials from which you can construct a coffin. Moreover, UC Berkeley found that typical burials cost 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, nearly 105,000 tons of steel, and over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete.
Instead of wasting resources, straining communities and ecosystems, and contributing to a growing problem, those undergoing end-of-life planning can consider how they might leave a positive impact on the environment following their death. There are many options for non-traditional burial or interment that not only avoid burdening the ecosystem but actively benefit it:
- Natural burial, allowing the body to decompose at its own pace over time
- Cremation accompanied by creative use of remains, like as part of an artificial coral reef. More than 50 percent of California residents prefer cremation, according to UC Berkeley
- Choosing coffins or receptacles made out of recycled materials
Green funerals are growing in popularity, creativity, and feasibility. There are a variety of guides, resources, and statistics available if you’re planning for the end of life or a funeral. It’s important to decide on a proper burial and funeral method well ahead of the end-of-life so that family and loved ones can help make the necessary arrangements. By choosing a green, eco-friendly route, you’ll be leaving a positive impact on the planet, and by planning ahead, you’ll help your family carry out your wishes.