Earth Day and Green Burial

Apr 18, 2012 | 0 comments

Wicker Basket Casket

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22. You can go green and save money while saving the planet with your final arrangements! Did you know these interesting facts about green burial, traditional funerals and cremation?

Resource Usage

Every year, traditional funerals utilize enough metal to build a Golden Gate Bridge and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit — resources simply buried in the ground, every single year.

This is based on information compiled by Mary Woodsen, a science writer for ten years at Cornell University. In 2002, she surveyed mortuary schools and funeral directors on the amount of resources they use annually and calculated from there. She believes these careful calculations provide a conservative estimate and the figures could actually be higher.

Annually, more than 827 thousand gallons of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid is pumped into bodies buried in the ground — toxic chemicals that eventually leak into the earth.

Every year, conventional burials utilize over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete for vaults; more than 90 thousand tons of steel and 27 hundred tons of copper and bronze for caskets; and 14 thousand tons of steel for underground vaults.

Cremation – Not So Green

Cremation isn’t as environmentally-friendly as you might think – it has a HUGE carbon footprint. A typical flame based cremation can use approximately 25 therms of natural gas to generate 2.5 million BTUs to process one body. That generates 532.4 pounds (242 kilograms) of CO2 emissions in the cremation process.

To put that in perspective, I have solar photovoltaic panels on my house here in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico. The monitoring system tells me how much CO2 I’m offsetting by generating my own electricity from the sun’s energy. I would have to run my 4.05 kilowatt solar panel system for 14 sunny days to offset ONE cremation.

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) said that there were 930,429 cremations in the U.S. in 2009. That would mean to offset all of those cremations with my one solar panel system, it would take 13,026,006 days. More than 13 million days – how many years is that?

The number of cremations is skyrocketing due to the economy and changing preferences. CANA estimates indicate the annual one million mark for cremations may be reached this year. Will you be contributing to the generation of greenhouse gasses?

Backyard Burial

One of the benefits of cremation is that you can bury a loved one in your back yard, in a garden, or under a tree. For a full body burial at home, you would need to own a certain number of acres (per local zoning ordinances) and can prove a burial won’t affect the water table. You also will have to include mention of the buried body (or bodies) should you sell the property.

The New Eco-Cremation

Some funeral homes are starting to offer a new disposition system called alkaline hydrolysis that uses very little energy to dissolve bodies into a sterile, coffee-colored solution. It can be safely poured into streams, onto land, or even down the drain. This may be the wave of the future, as revolutionary as cremation was 50 years ago.

Religions with Green Burial

There are two religions that have funeral traditions that ensure a green burial: Judaism and Islam. Green burial fosters returning to the earth as naturally as possible. Both religions avoid embalming, the body is dressed in cotton or linen clothing that’s biodegradable, and the body is either placed in a shroud or soft wood casket in contact with the earth.

With Jewish or Muslim burial in the U.S., some cemeteries will require liners over the body or casket to prevent the earth from sinking over time. However the body or casket is in contact with the earth. It’s the closest you can get to a green burial in a conventional cemetery.

In fact, when my husband and I preplanned our funerals, he chose a wicker basket casket, like the one pictured above. He does the laundry in our family, so it’s very appropriate, kosher, and green!

Have a happy, healthy Earth Day. Do your part to go green.

A Good Goodbye