Many of us do our best to live an environmentally green lifestyle, making changes in our routines that include everything from adjusting the thermostat to putting bricks in our toilet tanks. But what about continuing that green commitment into our deaths and even beyond? The preparation of our bodies and subsequent rituals upon our deaths can be environmentally destructive. From carcinogenic embalming fluids to hardwood caskets, following traditional funeral and burial protocols take their toll on the environmental health of those we leave behind. We do have options, however, that allow us to leave this world in the same manner we occupied it – eternally green.
Embalming – One of the major components in traditional embalming fluid is formaldehyde, which is a proven carcinogen. A study released in 2009 by the National Cancer Institute reported a link between exposure to formaldehyde and a higher incidence of death from myeloid leukemia. There are eco-friendly options for embalming, however, including one substance that is formulated from nontoxic and biodegradable essential oils. In addition, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), no US state actually requires embalming. So unless a body is being transported in between states or on an airplane, it may not even be necessary.
Burial Vessels – The UCS reports that, ” Caskets, grave liners, and vaults in U.S. cemeteries use more than 30 million board feet of hardwood, 100,000 tons of steel, and 1.6 million tons of concrete each year.” Green alternatives include sustainable soft woods, or even biodegradable cardboard. You will need to shop around for an accommodating cemetery, however, as many have their own requirements, including some that are mandated by state law.
Cremation – The process used in traditional cremation produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide, and with about one-third of Americans choosing this option, that’s a lot of greenhouse gas. A more environmentally-friendly option is called resomation. This process “uses water, heat, pressure, and potassium hydroxide to decompose bodies; the bones that remain are processed into a fine powder.”
The Eternal Gift of Green – If cremation is your decision, you may want to take the ultimate green step and consider having your cremated remains mixed with concrete and fashioned into part of a memorial reef to provide valuable habitat for hundreds of aquatic species of both flora and fauna. Family members can even be involved in the casting of the reef, and choose their loved one’s final resting place from a list of reefs in progress. See Eternal Reefs for more details.
“Formaldehyde: Understanding the Newest Study On Cancer and Exposure in Funeral Service,” National Funeral Directors Association
“FAQs and Fictions,” Green Burial Council
“When It’s Time to Leave, Go Green,” Union of Concerned Scientists
“The Memorial Reef Process,” Eternal Reefs