Although people have been buried for thousands of years, we are only just beginning to understand the environmental impact of traditional burials. Certain aspects of a traditional burial such as the embalming process, the use of caskets, and the use of cemeteries create a negative impact on the environment.
The average body requires 3.5 gallons of embalming fluid, which the World Health Organization has named a Class 1 carcinogenic compound due to its mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and other solvents. Once the casket degrades, this mixture can leech into ground water and has been found in streams near cemeteries and in the waste water of funeral homes.
Approximately one million pounds of metal, wood, and concrete are put into the ground each year to protect the deceased from the earth. Expensive and rare hardwoods are often used to make caskets, which creates a high demand for unsustainable practices. They also have a low decomposition rate, meaning the land in cemeteries takes a long time to become usable for other things.
Another major concern is land scarcity. Traditional cemeteries use large portions of land that must be mowed, watered, sprayed with pesticides, and used for nothing but burials theoretically until the end of time. While there will always be more deceased, there will not always be more land to hold them. And with an exponentially growing population, more land will be needed to feed, house and sustain it.
As global warming and sustainable land use become an increasing concern, many of us have become more aware of how our lives – and deaths – will impact the environment.
Cremation as an Alternative to Burial
While the main reasons people choose cremation over burial are lower costs, easier arrangements, and more personalized services, some Americans are choosing it as an environmentally-friendly alternative to burials involving metal and hardwood caskets, concrete vaults, and formaldehyde-based embalming because it reduces their land use.
While there is some concern over greenhouse gas emissions produced by crematories, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Modern crematories are designed to burn more efficiently and filter emissions by “scouring” combustion gases prior to their release. This includes funneling gases into wet scrubbers or through large filters to reduce pollutants. As these technologies continue to improve, the level of harmful emissions will decrease.
As of today, a modern crematory requires an average of 28 gallons of fuel to complete the cremation process – about what a large SUV can hold in its tank. Approximately 540 pounds of CO2 is released into the atmosphere per cremation. When compared with the amount of fossil fuels consumed by the average American throughout their lifetime, this final emission is relatively minor.
Using data from the CDC and the Cremation Society of North America, the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Southern California calculates that the United States’ cremation-related, yearly emissions are the equivalent of what Orange County in California emits yearly.
When you consider projects like Neptune Society’s Memorial Reef, where ashes can be combined with concrete to become part of a coral reef that sustains life, and The Bios Urn, which is a biodegradable urn that grows a tree from a person’s ashes, there are many ways to benefit the environment after being cremated.
Contact Neptune Society Today
Neptune Society helps families fulfill the final wishes of their loved ones with dignified cremation services from dozens of locations across America. Contact us today to learn more about our environmentally-friendly cremation process and prearrange your final needs.
Special thanks to Paula Sexton, location manager of Neptune Society Palatine for her support and contributions to this post.