Written in collaboration with Jeremy Bowler.
Yes, we’re talking about eco-friendly death today! I mean, why not? Death is one of the most certain parts of life for all of us.
When it comes to the death and funeral industry, sustainability isn’t typically the first thing to come to mind. Death is hard, grief is such a challenge, it’s hard to live more sustainably when your mind is cluttered with thoughts, and not everyone has the time or even the headspace to consider what they should do. To a degree, it’s true that the funeral and death industry isn’t necessarily eco-friendly. So, what can you do to ensure that you or your loved one has an eco-friendly passing and memorial?
Natural Burial Practices
Traditional burial practices often involve embalming fluids and non-biodegradable caskets, which can be harmful to the environment. Alternatively, opting for a natural burial, where the body is interred without embalming and in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, is a sustainable alternative. This allows the body to decompose naturally, returning nutrients to the soil. Nowadays there are bamboo caskets, wicker caskets, and even biodegradable sheets too.
Opt for Green Cemeteries
Green cemeteries or even conservation burial grounds are specifically designed to minimize the environmental impact of burials. They are not widely available but are slowly growing in popularity. These sites often embrace natural landscapes, prohibit traditional markers, and may even contribute to conservation efforts. Choosing such a resting place supports the preservation of natural habitats.
While cremation isn’t perfectly eco-friendly due to energy consumption, it is far more sustainable than the traditional burial route of embalming fluids and nonbiodegradable caskets. It is also a common and widely available practice.
If keeping a loved one’s ashes after cremation, consider using an urn made from biodegradable materials. You can also find urns for two people, reducing the amount of material needed while also allowing two people who were united during life to stay close together during death. Some urns are designed to break down naturally, allowing ashes to be scattered or buried, contributing to the cycle of life.
Aquamentation is still fairly new and not as popular, but it is believed to be even more eco-friendly than cremation or traditional burial. This process uses water, heat, and alkaline chemicals to accelerate decomposition, leaving behind only bones. It is not widely available everywhere, and the cost also varies widely.
Consider a Memorial Tree
Many people dealing with grief desire a physical space that will allow them to feel connected with their deceased loved one. As an alternative to a traditional burial in a cemetery, consider honoring a loved one by planting a memorial tree in a beautiful and sustainable gesture. You can choose a tree species that is native to the area and consider dedicating a tree to a public space or using biodegradable urns that contain seeds. This living memorial not only celebrates life but also contributes positively to the environment. Even if you don’t have space for a memorial tree, there are memorial tree organizations that focus on creating a forest.
Consider Organ Donation
Depending on where you live, you can either sign up your loved one to be an organ donor upon death, or you yourself can opt for organ donation. This is often seen as a way to give life even after death. Organ donation not only provides a profound gift to those in need but also reduces the environmental impact of burial or cremation.
Communicate Your Wishes
Many families who are planning a loved one’s funeral don’t immediately think of sustainability – they usually opt for a package that is least stressful and requires the least amount of planning. This is entirely understandable given the circumstances. To reduce mental burden on your loved ones, and to ensure your wishes are carried out, be sure to communicate your wishes for your own death and memorial. Depending on your health, age, and other life circumstances, you might also be able to work directly with a funeral home or organization to carry out your sustainable wishes.
Stick with Digital Invitations and Programs
Digital invitations and programs are becoming more prevalent, making them an easy thing to keep in mind and implement. You will save a lot of money on materials and printing while reducing your carbon footprint. If printed materials are necessary or desired, choose recycled or sustainably produced paper and encourage recycling after the event.
Encourage Carbon Offsetting
Attendance at funerals typically involves a lot of travel by loved ones. It is incredibly meaningful to gather together, though not always the best for the planet! Encourage people to donate to programs that focus on carbon offsetting (especially when it comes to air travel), and try to encourage eco-friendly transport such as carpooling, buses, and trains. Or, do the carbon offsetting yourself by donating on everyone’s behalf.
While death and funerals aren’t everyone’s favorite topic to consider, it can be empowering to make death-related decisions that align with your values. We hope these ideas have given you things to consider when it comes to sustainability and final goodbyes!
xoxo Laura (in collaboration with Jeremy Bowler)