You don’t have to settle for traditional embalming or burial. There are eco-friendly ways to dispose of your body when you die. Ways that better care for your bodies, your community, and your planet.
What’s Wrong With Traditional Embalming or Burial?
Embalming and traditional burial can have negative impacts on the environment in general and death workers in particular. Here are some reasons why:
Chemical Use in Embalming Fluids
Embalming involves the use of chemicals such as formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and other preservatives to slow down the decomposition process. These chemicals harm the environment when they leach into the soil after burial. Formaldehyde, in particular, is a known carcinogen. This harms embalmers and other death workers as well.
Traditional burial involves the use of non-biodegradable materials such as metal caskets, concrete vaults, and embalming fluid containers. The production and use of these materials contribute to resource depletion and have long-lasting environmental impacts.
Land Use and Space
Traditional burials require significant amounts of land for cemeteries. As urban areas expand, the demand for land increases, and dedicating large plots for burial can become inefficient and unsustainable, leading to deforestation and habitat loss.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The manufacturing and transportation of burial-related products contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the decomposition process in cemeteries produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, especially if the burial site is poorly managed.
The chemicals used in embalming fluids can leach into the soil and potentially contaminate groundwater. This contamination has adverse effects on local ecosystems and poses risks to human health if the polluted water is used for drinking.
Preservation of Open Spaces
Cemeteries occupy open spaces that could be used for other purposes, such as parks or natural reserves. Encouraging alternative burial practices that are more environmentally friendly allows for the preservation of open spaces.
To mitigate these environmental concerns, some people opt for alternative burial practices. As awareness of environmental issues grows, there is increasing interest in exploring sustainable and eco-friendly ways to dispose of our bodies.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Most of us were raised to care about the planet. Since the early 90s, we’ve been celebrating Earth Day and composting faithfully. Buying chemical-free cleaning supplies with essential oils.
Pretending not to notice they don’t work.
They’re better than chemicals anyway.
We wash our sweaty clothes with vinegar. Use baking soda rather than deodorant.
“It’s natural,” we tell friends who breathe through their mouths.
Our reusable bags long ago replaced paper or plastic at the grocery store. Don’t come at us with straws. And most of us stopped eating red meat decades before it became popular.
Considering the planet and future generations is a thing. We’re about it. As we grow older, our planet remains an important factor when making choices about the way we live.
Why should dying be any different?
10 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Body
I’ve included some of the more popular options that my clients consider when thinking about post-death options. As laws governing such options expand to include more environmentally friendly options, our choices grow. I’m excited to see what the future holds and plan to update this blog post along the way.
1. Feed Mushrooms
Toxins in our hair, nails, skin, and internal organs are nasty. Thanks, GE! Rather than send all that nonsense back into local drinking wells, let’s make our final pajamas an Infinity Mushroom Ninja Thing. The fungi break down our nastiness, turning it into nutrient-rich soil. Although production has stopped for the time being, hopefully, other companies will pick up the torch and we’ll have more mushroom suits in the future.
2. Donate Organs
On average, 22 people die each day of organ failure. It doesn’t have to be like that. Instead, you can donate eyes, lungs, heart, and even mouth tissue to people in need. This balances out the bad karma from all those times you left your shopping cart in the parking lot.
3. Choose Liquid Cremation
This option isn’t just a plot point from Breaking Bad. Liquid cremation is now a legal and preferable option. Bodies are placed into a solution made of lye (water mixed with potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide.) This dissolves everything but our bones and bad habits – which are then ground up into ashes without unhealthy gases.
4. Turn Ashes Into Bling
We don’t have to scatter our remains where no one wants them. We can convert them into jewelry or artwork instead. When a guest admires your descendants’ earrings or a painting in the living room, can you imagine the discussions that will ensue? I’m saying we have options.
5. Decompose for Science
For all you Law & Order fans, here’s your chance to help crime fighters from beyond the grave. Donate yourself to a body farm where forensic scientists study microbes, decomposition, and time of death. This helps solve real-life crimes and also catches bad guys.
6. Choose a Green Cemetery
Growing numbers of funeral homes and burial grounds skip embalming, iron-coated caskets, and cement tombs. Instead, they use biodegradable caskets or shrouds and have your natural body placed in the ground. No muss, no fuss. Bonus – some preservation or conservation cemeteries are protected from future development.
7. Become a Tree
You heard me. Feeding forests is one of the more ecologically sound ways to dispose of our bodies. Until cryogenics comes through, this is the only way to live forever. Elm or Oak. You decide.
8. Join an Underwater Reef
Underwater reefs help buffer shorelines against storms and floods, preventing erosion. So become one!
9. Feed the Birds
A Tibetan Buddhist ritual involves taking the body to a remote area where flocks of vultures come and do their thing. It is believed the birds take souls into heaven and poop on all your enemies. Okay, I made up that last part. Currently, this practice is not legal in the United States. Yet.
10. Donate Your Whole Body
(Full disclosure: I’m an organ and whole-body donator.) Choose between a medical school or maybe a place where they make safer cars or helmets. You can also bequeath your full skeleton to a museum or classroom. On the other hand, maybe give your skull to a local theatre for use in Hamlet and other productions. In addition, if there are any remains…remaining…cremation is free. Let the kids take a vacation with the money they save.
Depending on where you live, you might also want to consider human composting, burial at sea, or home funerals. Whatever you decide, tell your loved ones and write it down so no one has to guess. You can also contact me at Anitya Doula Services for local resources in your area.
Eco-friendly ways to dispose of your body after death bring benefit rather than harm. Not a bad legacy to leave behind.