Did you ever hear that joke — that the quickest way to significantly reduce your environmental footprint is to die?
However, while death is a natural part of ecosystems, with dead organisms consumed by other organisms (waste equals food), dead humans are typically embalmed with a toxic cocktail of chemicals and then entombed in nesting boxes of concrete, plastic, and precious hardwoods.
Marketplace ran a story about an ‘eco-friendly’ coffin producer in the UK who is producing recycled paper coffins to reduce the environmental impact of funerals. While the coffin is indeed part of the story, shipping a $3,000 (recycled) coffin 5,000+ miles to reduce a burial’s environmental impact feels a bit like selecting the rapidly-renewable bamboo trim package to reduce the environmental impact of your hummer.
The embalming fluid is the elephant in the room. It is estimated that over 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde-containing embalming fluid are buried each year in the US.
Green Burials, or Natural Burials, offer the opportunity of preparing the body without toxic embalming fluids. Refrigeration is typically substituted to slow the decomposition process, with the body then buried in a biodegradable casket or simple shroud, and typically interred in a natural burial site serving as a wildlife preserve. Home funerals, which often use dry ice to preserve the body for viewing, offer an opportunity to further reduce impacts and personalize the experience.
The Green Burial Council has developed standards for Conservation Burial Grounds and Natural Burial Grounds, as well as a directory of green burial providers and resources about the environmental impacts of burials.