On average, more than 150,000 people pass away every day throughout the world. This translates to over 55 million deaths each year, and in each case a decision needs to be made whether to cremate or bury. While many people make this decision before they pass, others do not and family or friends have to make that decision for them. With the global population more eco-conscious today than ever before, green cremations are growing in popularity and so is planting a tree urn with the ashes of a loved one.
Cremation vs. Burial
Many people are becoming more and more eco-conscious and don’t want to harm the environment after they pass. While cremation is not a truly ‘green’ option, it is much less damaging to the environment than burial. With cremation, the large and expanding land space used for burial is not required. In addition, cremation does not consume the significant wood, concrete and other resources used in burials (for caskets, vaults, and vault liners). Another negative impact of burial involves embalming fluid as many people who are buried are embalmed. Embalming leaves over 800,000 gallons of additional formaldehyde in the ground each year in the U.S. alone. This formaldehyde can leech into the groundwater, polluting this precious resource.
The cremation process has historically consumed a sizeable amount of energy and therefore generated greenhouse gases. However, new cremation and filtration technologies have helped make it much more environmentally friendly. In addition, with cremation, many of the implants present in peoples’ bodies are recycled, which is not the case with burial as they are typically left in the body. Cremation also gives you the ability to have an eco-friendly memorial, such as burying or scattering ashes with a biodegradable urn, growing a tree from ashes that gives back to future generations, or doing a water burial, among others.
While the cremation process itself is not truly eco-friendly, it can now be considered less harmful to the environment than traditional burial. If you choose cremation for yourself or a loved one and you are interested in making the cremation and resulting memorial more ‘green’, here are a number of additional things you can do:
Select the Right ProviderChoose a cremation provider that uses the latest technology and filtration for their cremation chamber – this can make a big difference!
Choose an Eco-Friendly Cremation CasketSelect a cremation casket to be used in the cremation that’s made from non-toxic, environmentally friendly materials
Recycle ImplantsMake arrangements with your funeral home or cremation provider to recycle any metal implants or medical devices. This can include pacemakers and dental prosthetics, which can be repurposed. Most funeral homes and cremation providers will offer this option to you. If they don’t, be sure to ask about it.
Skip EmbalmingEmbalming fluid is a chemical cocktail that contains formaldehyde, which is toxic and can harm the environment. If you elect to have a viewing prior to being cremated then there will be embalming. Instead, a ceremony can be held before the cremation without a viewing or after the cremation with the cremated ashes present in an urn.
Green MemorialFor the memorial, you have the option of purchasing a biodegradable urn to hold your cremated ashes. This can include a biodegradable burial urn, or The Living Urn where you can grow a tree in combination with a bio urn holding the ashes. In addition, many people choose to have their ashes scattered – if this is what you decide, choose a scattering urn made from bamboo or other sustainable resource. Alternatively, choose a water burial with a biodegradable urn to have your ashes scattered at sea.
DonateAnother thing you can do is make a donation to an environmentally friendly cause.
Offset EmissionsYou can offset any emissions created from cremation by donating to a carbon fund and/or growing a Living Urn tree memorial from your ashes.
Consider a Bio Cremation (if you are in a state where it is legal and available)A bio cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis, uses a combination of potassium hydroxide and water instead of a flame. This solution will essentially dissolve the body over 2 to 3 hours. States where bio cremation is legal currently includes Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming (the approvals continue to grow - check your state at time of reading this blog to see if it has been added to the list of approved states). Also, while it may be legal, this option may not be available in your area. If you are interested in a bio cremation, we recommend contacting your local funeral home or the Cremation Association of North America, or simply do a quick internet search to see if there is a provider near you.
Additional Reasons Why Families Choose Cremation
In addition to being a greener alternative to burial, there are many other reasons families choose cremation. This includes religion, family, and cost, among other reasons.
- Religion - families are becoming less and less traditional in their afterlife decisions. Many people now believe that cremation is acceptable in the context of their religious beliefs. An example is the Catholic Church, which, up until 1963, prohibited cremation. Still, the church's laws express a preference for burial, however, the outright ban is now a thing of the past and now, bishops can permit a funeral mass with cremated remains present.
- Family - another reason for the rise in cremation and decline in burials is family. More and more families are transient and many have immediate family members living in different cities, states, or even countries. For this reason, family burial plots are not as popular as they once were and cremation has become a more practical and cost effective option.
- Cost - one of the main reasons for the surge in cremation as it is much less expensive than a traditional burial. The average cost of a funeral today with a burial ranges from $7,000 to $15,000. Alternatively, a cremation typically costs a third of this amount or even less. Many people choose cremation because it's a lower cost alternative and can be more affordable for their family. Others want to leave the money that would have been spent on a full-service funeral and burial to their survivors or donate to a worthy cause of their choosing.