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Sharon Hunter - September 2021

Myth: Funerals can’t be environmentally friendly

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There’s no doubt that traditional funerals are hard on the planet. According to the Green Burial Council, here’s what Americans put in the ground each year through traditional burial.

  • 20 million feet of wood
  • 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid
  • 1.6m tons of reinforced concrete
  • 17,000 tons of copper and bronze
  • 64500 tons of steel

With cremations surpassing burials as the most popular committal choice, the environmental toll is still high. Cremation requires a lot of fuel and results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

There is good news.

Ecological progress is being made, so we can expect the funeral industry to reflect our desire to touch the earth lightly as we leave it. Here are some earth-friendly options to choose when we die.

  • Say no to embalming or opt for formaldehyde-free natural embalming if available.
  • Choose an earth-friendly casket. Plain pine, cardboard, woven bamboo and shrouds mean less resins, varnishes and metals. These are made of non-toxic, biodegradable materials that will break down over time.
  • If cremating, opt for an earth-friendly urn.
  • Consider cremation via alkaline hydrolysis (also known as aqua cremation or water cremation). Currently available in 18 states, this is a way of dissolving the body in water and uses roughly one tenth the carbon footprint of conventional cremation.
  • Consider burial in a natural burial ground or green cemetery. This avoids the use of outer containers, such as liners and vaults, which impede natural decomposition.

"We can expect the funeral industry to reflect our desire to touch the earth lightly as we leave it."

Other ideas:

  • Present guests with a seedling to plant in honour of the deceased.
  • Have a basket of wildflower seeds for people to take home.
  • Encourage them to plant them to help the local bee population.
  • Ensure catering is as environmentally friendly as possible. Reduce waste and minimise single-use plates and utensils.
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