When it comes to end-of-life ceremonies, most methods are not 100 percent sustainable – nearly everything we do has some kind of impact on the environment. Still, many people aren’t willing to go with a totally natural burial, which amounts to burying a body in a blanket and nothing more (plus, the legality of this practice varies from state to state). Fortunately, there are ways to support environmental sustainability without compromising traditional funeral methods, and cremation offers some of the most compelling opportunities.
How does traditional burial affect the environment?
While burial might seem like a perfectly environmentally friendly option, the issues lie in the materials used for preparation, the casket, and the upkeep of the land.
For starters, Mic.com points out that coffins and burial vaults can place several thousand pounds of wood and cement – not to mention cushion fabric and sometimes even steel – into the ground. Along with that, there is the roughly one gallon of embalming fluid per 50 pounds of body that is buried along with everything else, which remains in the grave forever, ostensibly.
Moreover, there are likely billions – possibly tens of billions – of people who have been buried in a fashion that resembles the process laid out here. Remember – much of those traditional burial materials are non-biodegradable. They don’t contribute to the environment and, at least in the case of heavy metals like steel and embalming fluids like formaldehyde, may be actively damaging it, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health. Once those bodies are in a cemetery, there is nothing else that land can become. Just to maintain a well-kept cemetery requires irrigation, landscaping, and fertilizer.
How does cremation offer a solution?
On the other hand, cremation doesn’t require nearly the land and resources that traditional burials demand. Instead, those who opt for cremation can choose how their remains are interred. Placement in a columbarium doesn’t take up much land space, while methods like scattering have no effect on the landscape.
Best of all, cremated remains can be incorporated creatively into the ecosystem. The Memorial Reef in Key Biscayne, Florida, uses cremated remains as part of a coral reef to provide a habitat for marine life. A number of companies create urns designed to break down in soil or water – some even come with seeds so that your remains can help foster growth for a tree or garden.
While cemeteries that are hundreds of years old are draining the environment, sustainable urns help build forests and enrich the air with oxygen. That is likely part of the reason why more and more people are choosing cremation. While cremation does emit some carbon dioxide, its ability to support an ecosystem helps to counteract negative effects it may have.
Above all, be sure to talk to your loved ones about end-of-life options, including how you or a family member would prefer to be interred. Just remember that the ecosystem will go on long after you – consider how your cremation plans might continue to benefit the environment for years to come.