Increasingly, there is an awareness of the impact that we are having on the environment and a more sustainable way of life to reduce this impact; this awareness being translated to funerals where there is an increasing demand for more sustainable options. This article will look at options for how to have a more environmentally friendly funeral. If your loved one was particularly eco-conscious, they might have already planned their funeral with the impact on the environment in mind. However, if this was not the case, and you think it would be their wish for their funeral to be as sustainable as possible, then read on for a wealth of ideas.
Environmental Impact of Funerals
Funerals are a part of our society and will have an impact on the environment. Aspects such as the release of gases during cremation, utilisation of land for burial and emissions from transporting the body all have consequences for the environment. When planning an eco-funeral, it may be picking the least-worst option from the societal norms; or you could look at some of the new, emerging options to make the funeral as environmentally sustainable as possible. Some of the areas to consider would be:
- Cremation V’s Burial
- Type of coffin
- Transport and travel
- Floral tributes
- Newer sustainable funeral ideas
Cremation V’s Burial
In the UK, traditionally, the death of a person is followed by a cremation or burial. They are either cremated or buried, depending on their preference. Neither option is necessarily better than the other in terms of environmental friendliness; however, there are different sustainability concerns with both options.
Cremation involves the burning of the body and the coffin; this process releases gases such as carbon dioxide that negatively impact the environment. It is reported that cremation releases approximately 400 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and has the environmental impact of a 500-mile car journey. These figures don’t consider the additional impact from the burning of metals and other toxins that may be in the body, for example, in the form of tooth fillings.
Considering the significant carbon footprint of cremation, would burial be a more sustainable option? Not necessarily. Burial is the eco-friendlier option; however, the use of land that is in short supply is a mark against the sustainability of burial. Materials in the coffin, as well as toxins in the chemicals used to embalm a body, can be detrimental to the surrounding land during decomposition and for many years after – add to this the potential for these toxins to enter the water supply if burial grounds are inappropriately placed and poorly managed.
Woodland burial is a newer but increasingly popular burial option that is significantly more environmentally friendly than traditional burials. Woodland burials usually take place in designated natural burial areas, there is no embalming of the body, and the graves are generally unmarked. Drawbacks of this would be that these natural burial areas are less abundant than standard graveyards, and individual burial plots are more limited. For example, Steve often arranges graveside ceremonies at the South Shropshire Remembrance Park – a serene & timeless woodland cemetery situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Sustainable Coffin Materials
Coffins have traditionally been made from hardwood, such as mahogany, and have metal fixings and adornments. Such coffins are unsustainable in terms of the chopping down of trees and the metal’s impact during both cremation and decomposition after a burial.
Increasingly, there are many more sustainable options when selecting a coffin. A vast array of different materials can now be used for a coffin; the most popular choices in the UK as an eco-option are wicker and cardboard. However, coffins can also be manufactured from banana leaves, water hyacinth or bamboo. If you want the traditional wooden look without the sustainability issues, there is now also the option to have a coffin made from sustainably sourced waste wood.
Environmentally Friendly Funeral Transport
Transport is another aspect of funerals that can have an impact on the environment. There is often little you can do to reduce the impact of the body’s transportation, as very few funeral directors currently have eco-vehicles; however, with the increasing availability of electric cars, perhaps in the future, there will be more choice.
In terms of funeral attendees, more can be done to reduce the impact on the environment. Families are increasingly widely spread, not just around the UK but globally. The death of a loved one may be an occasion to jump on a plane and fly to the funeral. However, the impact of Covid-19 and the reduction in funeral numbers have increasingly led to the use of technology to allow more people to attend the funeral without physically being there. It may be an idea to utilise such technology to encourage distanced attendance to mitigate the environmental impact of travel to a funeral.
Funeral celebrants, such as Steve, can help you to organise the funeral with video streaming in mind. Steve can also provide photographic, video memorials to be used as part of the ceremony and a keepsake afterwards. Find out more here.
Sustainable Floral Tributes
Traditionally, funerals have included large floral tributes. Flowers that are air-freighted into the UK with plastic packaging have a huge impact on the sustainability of a funeral. There are several options to mitigate this impact. You could source locally grown flowers that use green composting techniques with minimal transport implications. Or, for an even more environmentally friendly option, you could use flowers grown in the garden of the person who has died, family or friends.
Alternatively, you could forgo the tradition of flowers. Other options would include asking relatives and friends to plant a tree instead or donate to a charity that plants trees or works in conservation and environmental sustainability.
Emerging Eco Funeral Trends
Other more modern techniques for increasing the eco-friendliness of a funeral that are currently unavailable in the UK but maybe in the future include ideas such as:
- Water cremation – Popular in the USA, water cremation, also known as resomation, involves using a liquid solution to break down the body.
- Composting – Another option becoming increasingly popular in the USA is human composting. This process involves the composting of the body at an accelerated rate; the relatives would receive an urn of compost as opposed to ashes. The fertile soil is usable and could be used to plant a tree as a memorial.
Help Arranging an Eco Funeral
Arranging any funeral can be a daunting task; adding environmentally sustainable elements can make the process even more difficult. Suppose you don’t know where to start. In that case, you can always talk to your funeral director or Celebrant, who will have a wealth of knowledge, skill, and ideas to help support your requirements for an environmentally friendly funeral.
You can contact Steve to discuss how his celebrant services can tie in with a sustainable funeral. He can share ideas with you regarding the practical aspects. He can also help you plan the service’s content to reflect the person who has died and their passion for the environment and leading a sustainable lifestyle.