So you bring your own bags to the store, host clothing swaps, and actively petition companies to reduce their packaging. But have you thought about how you might prevent waste after you die?
Last month my family had to deal with this rather grim subject when my grandfather passed away. How best to deal with his remains?
What’s the green burial option?
The funeral operator presented us with two options: burial and cremation. A traditional burial service requires a heavy casket made of metal or wood, preserves formaldehyde or other chemicals preservatives, a concrete vault to put the casket in, and a plot of land that cannot be used for any other purpose in perpetuity.
Cremation requires fewer material resources, but the large amount of energy that’s needed produces greenhouse gas emissions as well as other air pollutants such as mercury, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals.
Both of these options would cost well over $5,000, not to mention all the other expenses involved with a traditional funeral. Neither of these options sat well with me. I knew my grandfather would not have wanted us to waste money or resources, but it seemed inevitable.
The bigger picture on embalming
As I started to research this, I found out just how big of a problem this is nationally. In the U.S. alone, over 2.5 million people die every year. The EPA estimates that over a million gallons of formaldehyde are used annually for embalming. Each cremation is estimated to add 110 pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Also, the average funeral costs between $6,500-$10,000 dollars. As the population grows, so too will these numbers. And the land available for burials will continue to dwindle. So are there other options?
The “green” lining to burials
Thankfully, there is. It’s called “green burials.” They give families the option to bury their loved ones in wicker baskets, bamboo coffins, or even light shrouds that easily break down when buried. The family can even pick a tree that can be planted on top of the body; representing the circle of life, the tree absorbs nutrients from the body to grow.
One artist, Jae Rim Lee, takes this idea a step further and suggests that we bury our loved ones in a suit containing hundreds of mushroom spores that will break down the harmful toxins that have accumulated within us. Listen to her TED Talk here.
Ultimately, my family decided to bury my grandfather inside a cherry wood casket within a concrete vault. I wish I would have known then that we had other options. Even though the funeral director did not give us this green burial choice, I was glad to find out later that more and more funeral homes are now offering this option nationwide. And it’s certainly started to make me want to “plan ahead” for myself.
This isn’t necessarily the most uplifting subject to talk about, but it makes me happy to think we all have a choice. How have you addressed this issue in your own family? Thought about this for yourself?