There is no easy way to say goodbye to a loved one after a life filled with love, laughter, and tears of joy. Whether it’s a friend, a partner, or a family member, burial decisions are often difficult for those left behind to make.
Whether you are planning ahead to spare your family the burden of making funeral decisions or you are planning a funeral for a loved one, there are earth-friendly or eco-conscious alternatives to traditional funerals worth considering.
The Environmental Impact of Conventional Burials
Conventional burials can have a substantial impact on the planet. The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) reports that conventional funerals in the U.S. alone account for the following resource depletions annually:
30 million feet of hardwood
1.5 million TONS+ of reinforced concrete
100,000 tons of metal (or more)
Then there is pollution with funerals, accounting for 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid yearly (according to MedCure.org), including formaldehyde.
NPR quotes Joe Sehee, who is the creative director of Green Burial Council as saying:
“We bury enough embalming fluid to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools, enough metal to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and so much reinforced concrete in burial vaults that we could build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit.”
That’s quite a lot to consider when it comes to polluting the planet we all call home.
Add to that the fact that many new caskets are made with veneered particleboard, which is often bonded with formaldehyde resin. These caskets are beautiful, no doubt, but this is often an emotional decision rather than a practical one – and not a green decision.
Another problem with conventional burials is two-fold:
In fact, it’s the pressure that often drives up the price. The pressure of sales professionals most interested in bigger commissions who prey on grief, and its many stages, to encourage you to invest heavily into an expensive send off for your loved one is enormous.
This is typically a time of great grief for families who feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility for planning an appropriate send off. During this time, you’ll often make decisions for the sake of expedience or, in many cases, out of a sense of perceived obligation that you would not otherwise make.
Thus, the high-pressure sales tactics designed to drive prices higher for the final expenses of your loved one.
The final concern with conventional funerals is one that’s not as big today as it will be in the future, but one that we need to begin considering, as a society, today. That concern is population.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the U.S. population is expected to surpass 320 million people. The article explains that, worldwide, the population increases by 4.3 people and decreases by 1.8 people every second.
All of these numbers put together means that there is only so much space in which to put our loved ones to rest. The Earth may not run out of room in this generation, or even with the next, but it will eventually become a problem if action isn’t taken soon.
Earth-Friendly Burial Alternatives
The good news is that there are many options available that provide a much lower environmental impact than traditional types of burials. Each one offers specific strengths or weaknesses that may appeal to you or, in some cases, repel you. The key is to find the solutions that allows you to do what you feel is best for the memory of your loved one as the primary concern, your family as a secondary concern, and the planet.
These are a few options worth learning more about.
The appeal of green burials is much broader than concern over the planet, which can be concern enough for many people. The plans are simpler, they are almost always more affordable, and they are actually good for the planet rather than simply being “not bad” or not as bad for the planet as other burial options.
So, what is a green burial?
It’s a simple concept that involves being laid to rest in a biodegradable shroud, wicker, pine, or even cardboard covering. Rather than erecting tombstones and monuments, many green burial centers plant trees, grass, or wildflowers to commemorate the life beneath the earth.
This is an attractive option to cash-strapped families who want to honor their loved ones but can’t afford lavish funerals. It also conserves natural resources, eliminates the introduction of harmful chemicals used in embalming, and establishes dedicated green areas for your loved ones eternal slumber.
There has been a great deal of debate about whether cremation was, in fact, more environmentally friendly than traditional burials. When you take into account the population impact and the limited space available, it adds a new dimension to the argument.
The fact is that cremation typically does require the burning of fossil fuels leaving many people to believe that you’re trading one environmental concern for another. However, there is a new type of cremation that works with a combination of mild heat, pressure and potassium hydroxide instead of fire.
This is referred to as bio-cremation or resomation. In this process, only the bones remain to be reduced to ash. According to MedCure, this process, which uses only 1/7th of the fossil fuels used in traditional cremation, is only legal in eight states at this time:
Another twist on the cremation theme is the idea of turning cremated remains into jewelry such as diamonds, crystals, or hand-blown glass. Or you can simply have the bio or traditionally created ashes stored in pendants that allow family members to carry your loved one with you always.
For family members who love the water, a memorial reef burial option might be the perfect choice. This is a process that also involves the cremated remains of a loved one, but then uses those remains to create a reef that will help rebuild ocean reefs that provide habitats and homes for a wide variety of ocean creatures.
As you can see, there are many options to traditional burial that your family can feel confident will properly honor the loved one that’s no longer with you while also preserving the planet he or she loved so much.
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