Which Disposition is the “Eco-Friendliest?”

Cremation DISCOVER Funeral Industry News Green Funerals April 27, 2022

Which Disposition is the “Eco-Friendliest?”

Clients select a method of final disposition based on a complex combination of factors: the wishes of the deceased, cost considerations, and local laws all figure prominently.  “Green” environmental options are quickly gaining traction with widespread popular demand.

The Green Burial Council defines a “green” burial as “… a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat (source)”. 

Complex Simplicity

There are many options for green burials available, with the number increasing all the time.  Because the deathcare professional fills the role of expert advisor to clients, managing the entire process, we’ve compiled a chart the details of the environmental impact of a number of current options for disposition of remains, and how each affects eco-friendliness variables. [Note: The unsustainability of traditional burial has been well-established, and is outside the scope of our purpose here, so traditional burial including a coffin of any sort has been omitted.  Also omitted is traditional cremation, which although preferable to traditional burial, still generates high levels of carbon emissions per cremation.]

It’s Not Easy Being Green

When laying a body to rest while making as little impact upon the environment as possible, elements contributing to the CO2e (carbon dioxide emissions) footprint are many. 

To use a dramatic example of how NOT to do it: traditional burial includes manufacture of a casket, which may be of unnatural materials (such as metal); transport of the new casket itself to the location where it’s to be used, again to the site of burial.  The heavier it is, the more energy will be needed to transport it, and that goes twice with bells on when it’s holding its decedent.

Ditto again for all of these factors for the concrete in grave liners… and you can throw in the manufacturing of the concrete itself here, as well, including transport to cemeteries.  Then don’t forget the energy demands of grave-digging equipment. 

It can get pretty complicated pretty fast, just to put the casket in the ground.  There’s also the consideration of moving the body to begin with from morgue, home, hospital, or other site; any preservation chemicals (which bring their own conglomeration of environmental concerns), and, after the body’s finally in the ground, the cost to the environment over time as chemicals leach into the soil and surrounding environment, the casket and liner do not break down but occupy and render unusable the land in which they’ve been interred… and on and on.

It’s easy to fall into reductio ad absurdum territory here pretty quickly.  Let’s avoid that, shall we; basic, objective review of a green method – say, alkaline hydrolysis – can reasonably begin with assessing the eco-friendliness of its process after manufacture of the technology.  We don’t need to get into the red-meat diets of the researchers, or their and lifetime durations or medical needs or cars or commuting distances, nor those of the engineers who built the machine, or origins/transport of the metal or materials used in the technology itself. 

The following comparison does not account for the initial manufacture of technological components (such as the AH capsule) by which each process is implemented.

The Top 9 Greenest options, in no particular order:

  1. Alkaline Hydrolysis

Availability: 22 states

Cost: $2,000 – $3,000

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: Flushable sterile effluent

ECO-CONs: Got to build that costly capsule first

Availability: 3 states but gaining momentum

Cost: $7,000

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: Organic fertilizer!

ECO-CONs: Process may take years to complete

Availability: 347+ green burial grounds and cemeteries, in most states

Cost: about $200 and up for shrouds or eco-friendly caskets

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: Sustainable materials, easily-degradable

ECO-CONs: Still goes in the ground

Availability: All states

Cost: $1,500

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: Eventually generates nutrients to the soil

ECO-CONs: Still goes in the ground

Availability: By application (!); approx. 100 bodies are added per year; 4000+ current applications

Cost: —

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: Contributes to the body of forensic and scientific knowledge

ECO-CONs: Time required; limited space

Availability: All states

Cost: $200 – $500

CO2e: Boat ride

ECO-PROs: Creatures of the sea are way efficient

ECO-CONs: Aren’t the oceans pretty full of our crap already?

Availability: All states

Cost: —

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: May contribute to education

ECO-CONs:  Remains sometimes traditionally cremated after use (HIGH CO2e)

Availability: All states; some zoning laws require funeral directors

Cost: $124 – $465

CO2e: Negligible

ECO-PROs: You get a TREE

ECO-CONs: Protected planting area in perpetuity required

Availability: Ongoing: launch schedule updated regularly

Cost: $2,500 – $25,000

CO2e: Well… it does require a rocket launch, so.  You know.  There’s that.

ECO-PROs: No trace or ashes — when it’s done; you’re gone

ECO-CONs: Yeah, there’s really no defending that launch.

And as an added bonus, here’s an intriguing little toy: The UK’s Greener Goodbye’s Carbon Calculation App.

Offering a range of these environmentally-conscious options to your clients will establish your business as an authority in the rapidly-evolving sector of green funerals. 

I’m partial to the tree pod, myself.