A growing number of people nationwide consider going green or eco-friendly burials as an alternative to traditional burials or cremation. But what exactly are they, and what is available?
What is a Green or Eco-Friendly Burial?
Green, natural, or eco-friendly burials emphasize simplicity and environmental sustainability. The deceased's body is generally not embalmed, cremated, or placed in a concrete vault, or if it is cremated, done in an environmentally low-emission way. The body is buried in a biodegradable container, and the grave site can return to nature. The goal is to complete the body's decomposition and its natural return to the soil or ensure the burial is as eco-friendly as possible.
Green burials are designed to have as minimal environmental impact as possible. Traditional burials involve unsustainable consumption of valuable urban land, not to mention burying vast amounts of metal, wood, and chemicals each year.
Water cremation, aquamation, or alkaline hydrolysis, is a water-based alternative to traditional cremation. Traditional cremation utilizes large amounts of fossil fuels, which create air pollution, contributing to air pollution with its high carbon emissions. Traditional cremation requires temperatures between 1,200 and 2,000°F. With the average traditional cremation taking two hours, creating and maintaining this heat makes a significant energy draw.
One traditional cremation is estimated to create at least 535 pounds of CO2.
Aquamation, legalized in roughly 20 states, requires a pressurized chamber, water and alkali solution, and heat. Instead of temperatures in the thousands, aquamation only needs the chamber to be heated to 350, while the water, alkaline solution, heat, and pressure cause a much sped-up natural decomposition process. Everything but bone decomposes, and the bones are ground to ashes for the family to distribute or keep as they wish. The water and alkaline solution is natural and non-toxic.
Mushroom Burial Suit
Mushroom burial suits are specially made biodegradable suits. The original creator of the suit says the mushroom spores that line the suit are trained to consume tissue. As human remains contain toxins released into the atmosphere through cremation or other burial methods, mushroom suits can absorb and purify these toxins, resulting in a cleaner burial.
There is a growing variety of biodegradable urns available. The general concept behind most is that cremated remains, or ashes, are placed in a biodegradable container (sometimes a tube or egg-shaped), and then buried in the earth where it decomposes naturally. Sometimes, a tree or sapling can be planted above the biodegradable urn to be nourished by the remains. The concern with biodegradable urns is that the PH of cremated ashes is too high to support plant growth, so a great biodegradable urn should come with organic material or soil that can help minimize the effects of the cremated remains.
There are also urns created from paper or natural fibers, which may come with seeds or other types of plants or flowers within them. Many paper and fiber urns are multi-purpose; they can be used to display ashes, placed in the ground, used for scattering, or floated on water.
Eternal reefs combine a cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial in the sea into a meaningful and permanent environmental tribute to life. Eternal reefs are designed reef systems from individual reef balls or by mixing cremations with concrete and fitted to a mold of environmentally safe, marine-grade concrete that quickly assimilates into the natural ocean environment.
These permanent memorials on the ocean floor create new marine habitats for fish and other sea life. Eternal reefs are placed on reef sites designated for development as recreational reefs for fishing and diving, creating public reefs that all can visit and enjoy.
Underwater inurnment is gaining more attention for several reasons:
- Offering more affordable, sustainable, and environmentally beneficial solutions
- Permanent, secure, and easy to arrange
- A way to "give back" to the earth in a positive way
- Leaving a unique and memorable legacy
Why are green burials becoming more and more popular? Most likely, many people personally love the idea of a green burial. They, or you, may find great comfort in knowing they will return to nature while protecting or restoring the land.
Whichever reason, a green and eco-friendly burial is a beautiful way to memorialize a life without damaging the earth.