Eco-Friendly Cremation Methods and Alternatives

You don’t want your last act on this earth to be one of environmental waste. Deathcare options often come with heavy carbon footprints. The care of human remains is a contributor to environmental problems. 

Many people are aware at this point of the environmental dangers and extraordinary cost of unnecessary embalming. They may think choosing cremation is a better alternative. However, traditional cremation methods of burning the remains at a high temperature can release greenhouse gases.

Innovation is making it possible to make other end-of-life choices including cremation by water and green burial. Read on to learn more. 

Types of Cremation Methods

Traditional cremation involves exposing human remains to fire. Burning bodies occurs in several forms. Crematorium furnaces and pyres remain popular in modern times.

Direct Cremation

Modern cremation services occur in a furnace built to burn at a high temperature of 1200-1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Flames consume the remains in direct cremation.

Bodies housed in cardboard or wooden boxes slide into the furnace. The cremation process takes several hours. Afterward, the ash remains are processed in a cremulator to make sure they have a uniform weight and appearance. This simplifies spreading.

Many choose cremation to avoid harmful chemicals used in embalming and burial. But emissions from a traditional cremation are about 535 pounds. Cremations’ environmental impact is significant.

Funeral Pyre

Traditional funeral pyres permit open-air cremation. The body burns atop flammable materials. Wrapped in a shroud, the body can be laid with flowers or other belongings.

In the United States, there is one public, legal funeral pyre. Located in Crestone, CO, the Crestone End of Life Project operates the pyre. There, remains can be cremated in the open air while surrounded by the family and friends in sight of the Rocky Mountains.

These offer a natural feel and a feeling of connection for those who attend and witness the cremation. But there are still environmental concerns when it comes to funeral pyres.

Greenhouse gases released by funeral pyres are concerning. In areas like India, millions of funeral pyres are built and burned each year. These damage forests to provide fuel for the pyres.

Eco-Friendly Cremation Methods and Alternatives

For a long time, burial with embalming and cremation have seemed like the only ways to put a body to rest, but now there are alternative cremation methods that are more eco-friendly.

Aquamation 

Skip burial and cremation and opt for aquamation. Technically known as “alkaline hydrolysis,” cremation by water drastically reducing the environmental impact of deathcare.

In aquamation, water dissolves the body. Alkaline water helps break down the organic materials of the body. Warm water flows over the remains in a gentle process.

The process produces some solid remains. Families have the option to bury, scatter, or keep these.

The major attraction to aquamation is the 90% reduction in energy used compared to traditional cremation. Legality and availability of aquamation is slowly spreading, as it becomes a more viable alternative to traditional cremation. 

Green Burial

Green burial aligns with more traditional burial practices. Unlike cremation, which occurs all at once, decomposition in burial takes a long time. The remains are wrapped in biodegradable shrouds and buried directly in the earth. 

Many green burials feature a tree, bush, or flower garden planted directly above the remains. The plants benefit from the nutrients provided by the remains. Those who opt for green burial appreciate being able to contribute to the life cycle even after their passing.

Green burials forsake the cost of embalming—which is a huge cost savings—but still requires the purchase of a plot. Plot costs are often several thousand dollars.

Barriers to Eco-Friendly Deathcare Options

For more people to be able to pursue eco-friendly deathcare options, like different cremation methods and alternatives, some barriers must be overcome.

Availability

In many areas, there simply are not enough funeral options for folks to make informed choices based on their wishes. Especially in the fog of grief, survivors may choose between basic options offered by local funeral directors rather than looking for eco-friendly options.

Leaving funeral plans or an advanced directive can help solve availability issues by directing your loved ones to your desired end-of-life plan. This is especially true if they are not typically available locally.

Cost

While eco-friendly options for funerals often come with a smaller price tag – water cremation, for instance, weighs in under $2,000 – cost may still be a deterrent for some. If eco-friendly options are considered an “extra” or need to be pursued from a distance, costs may increase.

Furthermore, the average cost of cremation often falls below $1,000. This makes it hard to beat in overall costs, even for some eco-friendly cremation methods.

Legality

It is important to conceptualize the funeral industry as exactly that: it is an industry mainly interested in sustaining its own viability, not in delivering the best environmental options at cost to itself. Until green deathcare options become either mandated or more profitable than traditional embalming and burial, the funeral industry will tend toward more profitable practices.

To this end, the funeral industry has become heavily involved in legal lobbying to create red tape for those seeking alternative and do-it-yourself funeral options. Part of making eco-friendly cremation and burial options available include taking the business interest out of deathcare at the legal level.

Which Method Is Right for You?

It may feel morbid to dwell on deathcare options when you feel so full of life. However, making plans may bring you a sense of peace. In the event of an untimely passing, your survivors will also be extremely grateful for your clear, written plans.

There are so many cremation methods and alternatives available. With some careful planning, you can have the send-off you desire.

Focus on the positives of using your body to benefit the environment or making a choice that will have less of a carbon footprint. Thinking of your last act as something good for the world may help you feel peace in your planning.

Now that you’ve learned some more about cremation methods, read some more of our end-of-life planning articles.

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