5 Eco-friendly ways to dispose of a dead body

If you live an eco-friendly life, chances are you might be considering an environmentally-friendly death. Fortunately, in Australia, there are several options to deal with human remains that are both kind to the planet and readily accessible. Both burial and cremation have pros and cons but both are considered fairly demanding environmentally.

Burial takes up valuable space and cemetery upkeep requires ongoing maintenance and use of water, herbicides and other chemicals. While cremation is generally considered better for the environment than traditional burial, it takes energy to run the cremators and the process releases Co2 into the environment as well as fumes from the burning of mercury teeth fillings and other materials such as tattoo inks.

As alternatives become available to these traditional methods of body disposal, our options to go in a greener way become greater. Here are five of the five more environmentally friendly, legal ways to dispose of a dead body.

Natural burial

Council authorities all over the country are embracing the idea of natural burials – after all, if done correctly, it’s arguably the way nature intended us all to go… dust to dust.

Because of health and safety legislation, we can’t just go out to a national park and dig a hole to throw grandma in, but with interest in natural burials on the increase, designated natural burial sites are popping up in cemeteries across Australia.

To do a natural burial correctly, you need to consider the environmental impact of every step of the after-death-care and burial process – using minimal intervention and chemicals, carbon neutral transport and a coffin made of cardboard, felted wool or wicker or even better, with the body simply wrapped in a shroud made of an unbleached, unbleached natural fiber.

Plots are marked usually with a star picket and there is no memorial stone, inscription or ornate headstone, which may be a turn off for some. Natural burial plots resemble natural bush land and once the body is interred, nature is allowed to take its course and the pioneer species of plants native to the area soon covered the turned earth.

Natural burial has a strong significance for many and the graveside service can be beautifully simple and free from floral arrangements, ornate coffins and memorial markers. If you love the natural bush land and want to be returned to the earth, this may well be an option for you.

Check with your funeral director for the nearest natural burial site in your area and go have a look. They are peaceful places where the wind softly blows through the gumtrees and bird life abounds.

Alkaline hydrolysis

Otherwise known as water cremation, alkaline hydrolysis is available in Australia as an alternative to burial or cremation. It is promoted as a greener method of body disposal and involves the body placed in a chamber and treated in a water-borne process that takes from 6-20 hours.

When broken down, the bones are removed, pulverised and given to the family, as they would be after cremation. The liquid is then filtered and treated in a UV sterilisation process before taken away for disposal. Leaders in this field as working to improve this relatively new process, so that ultimately, clean water may be returned to the environment after the process is complete.

Human organic reduction

As our cemeteries are filling up and people are seeking a less environmentally damaging way to die, human composting is being considered by many as a simple alternative which speeds up the decomposition process in a controlled environment. It is not yet available in Australia.

The body is placed in a large vessel or pod with rounded ends to allow turning and agitation throughout the process. Natural microbes break the body down within three months to a point where the vessel can be opened and contaminants like prosthetics and implants can be removed.

The larger bones are also removed, pulverised and returned to the vessel for further breakdown. The natural composting process causes heat which kills any bacteria and after another three months the body is returned to soil and can be disposed of in several ways without fear of contaminating the environment.

Some US operators have refined the process to a highly scientific 60-day turnaround, but it’s important to remember the more controls placed on things like temperature and humidity, the more energy that this process will take.

Greener funerals

Even if the above methods aren’t available in your area, there are still choices you can make regarding your coffin and funeral service which can make it more environmentally respectful.

Consider the family picking wildflowers or flowers from grandma’s garden to lay on her coffin instead of hot house grown commercial flowers. Choose a wicker, felted wool or calico coffin or burial in a shroud to reduce the use of timber, glues and plastic handles, or an inexpensive cardboard coffin to reduce both the ecological and financial impact of your funeral.

Cardboard coffins come in natural colour or white, which can be decorated by family members. This in itself can be a beautiful way for the family to come together to grieve through creativity, while sharing stories and memories as they decorate the coffin and take a personal role in the funeral.

If the environment is your primary concern, you can opt not to be embalmed, where possible, or stipulate for minimum mortuary intervention to reduce the chemicals and cosmetics used in the preparation of your body. But beware in many cases, this will make it impracticable to delay the funeral or even have a viewing of your body, so be sure to consider the feelings and needs of close family when making these choices.

Recycled materials as a final resting place

If you choose to be cremated, you can still give back to the earth by selecting an eco-urn that turns your cremated remains into a tree, plant or shrub.

These eco-urns are fully biodegradable and feature a receptacle at the bottom for the cremated remains and a space at the top for a growth medium potting mix where the seed can be planted for your tree.

The whole urn is then planted in the ground, or in a large pot and nature takes its course, creating a beautiful living memorial. Also, biodegradable and ocean safe are the floating urns which make it possible to float cremated remains off in the ocean. As the urn takes on water it slowly sinks, returning the cremated remains to the watery depths below.

Of course, scattering cremated remains in nature is another lovely idea, but check with your funeral director to make sure it’s legal to do this in your chosen spot.

If you are considering taking an environmentally approach to your funeral and final resting place, the team at McCartney Family Funerals are on hand to advise on the options available across south-east Queensland. Call them on 1300 043 522 or visit www.mccartneyfunerals.com.au for more information.


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