Are there cremation alternatives? Are these alternatives earth-friendly? How do they compare to the environmental impact of cremation? People may not think cremation has an environmental impact, but it does.
The truth is that cremation takes extreme amounts of energy to perform. Cremation chambers are heated and cooled multiple times a day. Each cremation releases pollutants into the atmosphere. Such pollutants include toxic gases and heavy metals like mercury. Offsetting that pollution output also takes vast amounts of energy and resources.
What can you do instead of cremation?
As concern for the environment and cremation rates grow, discussing alternatives is important. The current legal alternatives to cremation in the United States are burial, alkaline hydrolysis, and terramation. Here we’ll explore alternatives to cremation that range from least to most eco-friendly.
#1. Burial – The Least Eco-Friendly Option
If not cremation then burial, right?
Burial is usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of alternatives to cremation. There are three types of burial. They are traditional in-ground burial, entombment, and green burial.
Traditional burial is probably what you think. The deceased is placed in a metal or wood casket. Then the whole thing is buried in the ground, and the casket is typically surrounded by a grave liner or vault.
A grave liner is a concrete box with drainage holes that reinforces the earth around the casket. A burial vault is a lined or sealed receptacle that provides the same benefits as a grave liner. It is also responsible for reducing the risk of intrusion by exterior elements.
Grave liners and vaults do not protect the deceased. Instead, their job is to protect the integrity of the ground. These liners also decrease pitting on the ground while heavy machinery drives over the grave space. To put it plainly… they just work to keep the grass level, so the cemetery looks pretty.
Neither choice is environmentally friendly. Putting metal, concrete, and embalmed bodies into the earth is just as unfortunate as releasing toxins through cremation.
Entombment is another burial choice. Nicolas Cage’s giant pyramid comes to mind when thinking of this alternative to cremation. The St. Louis Cemetery #1 of New Orleans is famous for these private mausoleums and his future resting place is a prime example.
Entombment is the above-ground burial of remains, typically in a mausoleum. Mausoleums are free-standing buildings enclosing burial spaces. Bodies are often embalmed, casketed, and surrounded by even more concrete when this method is chosen.
Again, not ideal for the environment.
#3. Green Burial
Green burial is an environmentally friendly burial choice. With this method, a natural fiber casket (like seagrass) or a shroud is used to surround the body. People are buried without grave liners or unnatural elements. The goal here is to honor the person and return their body to the earth. Natural decomposition is encouraged with this cremation alternative.
Green burial is an eco-friendlier alternative to cremation and traditional burial. However, this method still has the potential to release heavy metals and pathogens into the environment.
Most funeral homes offer traditional burial and few green burial solutions. While burial is an alternative to cremation it is not an environmentally conscious choice. Other, newer eco-friendly dispositions wonderful options to consider as alternatives.
#4. Alkaline Hydrolysis
One such eco-friendly cremation alternative is alkaline hydrolysis. Some people think about this alternative as “one final soak”. Alkaline hydrolysis is a process that uses water, potassium hydroxide, and heat to reduce the body down to nutrient-rich liquid and bone.
Unlike traditional flame cremation, alkaline hydrolysis uses far less resources and energy. It uses one-quarter the overall energy of flame-based cremation and does not release the same pollutants into the atmosphere. As an alternative to cremation, it is definitely more earth-friendly.
In fact, the greatest drain on resources for this method of disposition is water usage. Alkaline hydrolysis uses about 300 gallons of water per person undergoing the process. This is equivalent to the amount of water the average person will use over the course of three days. It seems like a lot, and it is!
However, because this alternative is so eco-friendly that used water (called effluent) is high in nutrients and beneficial to the planet. It can safely go into local municipality’s sewer systems or fertilize non-edible plant life.
Speaking of plants…
#5. The Leading Eco-Friendly Cremation Alternative – Terramation or Human Composting
With plants you have soil. So too with people.
The leading eco-friendly cremation alternative is terramation (also known as human composting and natural organic reduction). Terramation uses plant matter to help natural decomposition turn the body into soil. During the process, heavy metals are removed from the soil. Additionally, pathogens cannot survive the temperature inside the vessel. In this way, it is the best alternative to cremation.
Terramation’s ecological footprint is small. Most of the energy used goes towards keeping the facility’s lights on! Each vessel is monitored for temperature, oxygen flow, and moisture levels. That technology also uses very little energy.
The energy used during terramation is far less than that of cremation and even less than alkaline hydrolysis. Terramation does not require the heating or cooling of retorts or water. It just requires the Organics (plant material) that surround the body and time. Sustainably grown and harvested organics fill each vessel. The planet can handle that!
The more people that go through the terramation process the more accurately we understand its impact on society and the environment.
As it stands now, terramation seems to us about 1/6 to 1/8 the energy used for cremation. On the other hand, Cremation uses energy over a roughly three-hour period (for one cremation). That is a huge difference and makes an incredibly small eco-footprint for terramation.
Choose Cremation Alternatives That Are Good For The Planet
Certainly, what’s good for the planet is good for its inhabitants. Some of these alternatives to cremation hold more merit with that line of thinking than others. Breaking away from tradition is difficult but with time these alternatives to cremation are sure to flourish.
People think that cremation is a cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternative to burial. However, that’s just not true. Each cremation takes extreme amounts of energy to reduce the body down to the “ash” with which we’re familiar. Further, the cremation process releases toxic gases and heavy metals into the atmosphere. This poisons us and the planet.
It is imperative that we find sustainable cremation alternatives.
Options like green burial, alkaline hydrolysis, and terramation that take environmental output into consideration are vital. These alternatives will benefit the sustained health of humanity and the planet. They open ways to encourage new life with each death that occurs.
In short, are there alternatives to cremation? Most definitely! You can even plan ahead with human composting.