For Christmas this year I decided to give my children the gift of setting a health and burial directive. It seemed like a gift to take the guess work out of what to do if I could not make my own health choices and what would be meaningful to me at my time of death. There are a lot of reasons to reconsider typical burial practices. For me it is about not wanting to waste space on this planet, making my departure with the smallest possible carbon impact and coming full circle and returning to nature in some way. One might say, making my last act as one of a gift not a burden. That has made me curious about all the new technologies in the world of green burials. We have reported several times about green burials so I will review some of the things we’ve learned and talk about a few new technologies.
before you read on…
Check out my report on this topic in the latest episode of 50 Shades of GDs (my report starts @ 15:10)
Why green burial?
According to reports from the Green Burial Council…
- 54% of people are interested in “greener burials”
- There is a 72% increase in cemeteries
- The average cost of a funeral is $8500
- 30 millions board feet of wood is used for typical coffins
- 4.3 million gallons of toxic embalming fluids used made of formaldehyde which is banned in the EU
- 17,000 tons of copper and bronze used
- 64,500 tons of steel used
- 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete used for vaults
As for Cremations, cremating one corpse requires 2 – 3 hours in more of 1,800 degrees of heat — enough energy to release 573 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In many cases, dental compounds, such as fillings, also go up in smoke, spewing harmful mercury vapors into the air. Often families purchase and burn a coffin as well. I’ve heard that the bricks in cremation ovens and chimneys and all the duck work have to be replaced every 7 years due to the high temperatures. So all those toxins go right into the landfill.
The carbon footprint of a standard cremation is equal to 1000 miles of driving a car!
How did we get from women lovingly washing and preparing the body to men using embalming fluid and needing cement vaults? Casket makers and the Catholic Church are the strongest lobbyists in stopping “green burials.”
Alternatives to toxic burial
NOTE: regulations are different state by state
- The body can be preserved by putting it on dry or techni ice instead of embalming fluid
- Turns out funeral homes have to receive the casket you provide. They all have their own practices for burial, vaults etc. So, if you want to place your loved on in a decorated cardboard box, rattan basket or pine box, look for a respectful cemetery. Green Burial Council (GBC) can help you find GBC certified cemeteries and funeral homes to work with. Keep in mind there are different laws state by state.
- Eternal Reefs, one of my favorites – the cremains and any memorabilia you choose gets incorporated in cement pods that loved ones create and that go into the ocean to recreate coral reefs
- Alkaline Hydrolysis, another favorite of mine, also known as: water cremation, aquamation, resomation, flameless cremation and more. The body is placed in a pressure tank with water and lye. All that is left are the bones and any fillings. The bones can be crushed into a dust and used in the same way as traditional cremains. The liquid waste is only amino acids, peptides, sugar and salts and can be deposed through regular waste water treatment. I’ve read that there is not even any DNA in the liquid.
- Promession or freeze drying. There’s been some buzz about this, but there is no evidence that anyone is actually doing this process.
- Recompose or human composting. Yes, it’s just what it sounds like. Still in development and is expected to be available in Seattle in December of 2020.
- Capsula Mundi or burial pods. You can get a small pod for ashes or eventually they will have pods for bodies placed in a fetal position. The pods are then buried with and small tree or the seed of a tree. The pod gets planted in a “memorial forest” or “sacred forest” with others. There is a lovely documentary coming out soon on Amazon called A Will for the Woods about a man with a terminal illness who prepares for his own green burial.
And finally a word from Gina Colombatto, my friend who runs a Death Café in Portland, Maine, tells me about a precious Eternal Reefs Ceremony she attended for a friend of hers. I met Gina in my neighborhood and she invited me to a Death Café which I found to be a wonderful conversation about Death from people who where there for all kinds of reasons. Death Cafes are in 69 countries. Find the nearest Death café here.
That’s what I found in the conversation of our last act on this earth. I look forward to checking in again when I learn more.