The ways in which we impact our environment continue after we die.
"Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:
30 million board feet of hardwood caskets
90,272 tons of steel caskets
14,000 tons of steel vaults
2,700 tons of copper and bronze caskets
1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete vaults
827,060 US gallons of embalming fluid, which usually includes formaldehyde"
The customs of our Western culture cause more harm than good. Traditional burials are anaerobic, meaning the body produces methane as it putrefies and liquefies due to the absence of oxygen. The remains are buried deep and sealed in a coffin. Typical caskets and coffins are often manufactured using hardwoods, which are not environmentally friendly due to the resins, glues, formaldehyde, plastics, plastic liners, etc. Most often it is endangered species of wood that are also used. A traditional burial takes up space and there will be a significant problem when that space runs out. Cremation is technically a more sustainable option compared to burial, but it poses its own environmental threats as well.
"A typical cremation is fueled by natural gas and the body (and in some cases, a coffin) must burn for around two to three hours to be turned into ashes. This requires more than 20 litres of fuel and, on average, results in 160 kilogrammes of CO2 emissions.
There are other emissions that result from the process as well, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, persistent organic pollutants and, most worrying of all, mercury from amalgam fillings."
However, eco-friendly options are certainly on the rise. Legalities will vary by state, but hopefully a greener future of dying will be implemented worldwide. Here are a few of those options:
Think of cremation, except the reversed element of water. Contrary to popular belief, fire isn't the only way. Aquamation (also known as Alkaline Hydrolysis or Resomation) is a flameless cremation where the body is placed in a pressure vessel that is then filled with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, and heated to a high temperature. Over the course of about 6-8 hours, the body is broken down to its chemical components. Bones remain and are then crushed in the same way after cremation so that next of kin receive ash. Aquamation offers a more ecological approach as it uses 1/8th of the energy compared to flame-based creation and drastically reduces the producing of carbon-dioxide and other pollutants.
Recomposting is a process that is fueled by microbes that occur naturally in our bodies and environment. It is basically an accelerated form of decomposition by laying the body in a cradle surrounded by wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. The cradle is then placed into a vessel and covered with additional plant material. The body and plant material will remain together in the recomposting vessel for 30 days as the microbes break everything down to its molecular level. Nutrient-rich soil is the result which can be used for conservation land, forests, and gardens.
Green burial is nothing new. It is a traditional method that is not so foreign to those of our ancestors, yet taboo in our society of today. The body is placed in a biodegradable casket or shroud and then buried at a level that allows microbial activity similar to composting. The gravesite is allowed to return to nature. These burials can take place on private land (but there are regulations and permits per state) and there are some cemeteries that are open to vault-free techniques.
Called Capsula Mundi which is latin for "world's capsule" is an egg-shaped, organic casket that's suitable for a body or its ashes. It takes the body about a year to purge into the buried environment. The nutrients are released into the soil quite quickly, so a decently sized, mature tree planted on top is key. These pods may help maintain some oxygen flow into the system. They also bring in carbon, which is what helps those microbes break down the nitrogen.