Eco-friendly funerals are important to families that want to honor an environmentalist, conservationist, or outdoor enthusiast. People who lived their lives with respect for the environment often desire to leave this world in the same way.
If you know somebody who is trying to plan an eco-aware cremation, this guide is for you. Is cremation any more environmentally responsible than burial? What kind of casket or urn is the greenest? The environmental impact of cremation is a complicated subject – and this quick guide will help to answer some of the questions you may have.
1. Is cremation greener than burial?
Modern cremation techniques are very green, with only the cost of energy to consider. The release of mercury and other chemicals was once a concern but modern filtering techniques have all but eliminated concerns of harmful pollution. Cremation is extremely efficient compared to having a body embalmed, vaulted, and buried.
Green burials are possible, but a little more expensive to achieve – choosing a cemetery that does not require a vault, avoiding the embalming process, and opting for a chemical-free casket are good ways to mitigate the environmental impact of burial.
2. What kind of cremation casket is the most eco-friendly?
Cremation caskets are very different from the varieties intended for burial. While a casket is not required for cremation, most funeral homes still require families to enclose the body in a solid non-combustible container. These are often very inexpensive and some have cloth covers that make them look just like an ordinary casket.
For families that want to hold a traditional funeral, any casket made of simple, minimally treated, natural materials should work well for an environmentally friendly cremation. Look for a casket that uses non-toxic glues and does not have any plastic or varnished parts. Some of the most eco-friendly options use sustainable materials like sea grass or bamboo.
3. What kind of scattering urn or burial urn is the most eco-friendly?
After the cremation, you’ll need a place to store the ashes until the scattering or burial ceremony. Just about any urn store carries a wide variety of green urns: there are handmade paper urns that contain flower seeds that sprout after burial, scattering urns that can be used as birdhouses afterward a ceremony, etc.
Of course, you could still opt for a classic-looking urn made of any biodegradable material to keep things traditional. If you plan to keep the urn or ashes as an heirloom, you should choose something sturdy and permanent like brass or ceramic.
4. Are there any eco-friendly urns available for sea burial?
Families planning to sink an urn in a water source like a river or ocean should consider investing in an urn rated specifically for use in water. Ordinary urns will stick around in the water forever, leeching harmful chemicals into the habitat. Manufacturers and artisans keep eco-safety in mind when creating their biodegradable water urns because they know most of these urns will go to honor people who loved the water and the creatures that live there.
Some of the most impressive sea burial urns are those made with materials relevant to the area. Urns carved from beautiful Himalayan salt gently dissolve in the ocean, concrete urns work as reef starters in tropical areas, and paper urns float gently on any water source before gently sinking below the surface.
5. Will ashes affect the environment at the scattering site?
Scattering ceremonies are beautiful, touching, and meaningful. But some families worry about the environmental impact of scattered remains – but don’t worry, the ashes are completely harmless to local plant and animal life. The very rare exceptions include harsh environments where plants already have trouble thriving, and popular lookout spots that host dozens of scatterings a year.
Litter is far more of a concern. Never leave anything behind at a natural scattering site, including plastic flowers, urns, or urn inserts. Popular scattering sites are always involved in a constant battle against litter from careless groups.
Taking the Next Steps
Contact your local funeral home or green burial counsel for more guidance and information. As cemetery plots become more expensive and as more and more people are becoming aware of the environmental impact of burial, you will see the number of eco-friendly cremation options continue to grow.