Taking Responsibility for our Impact on the Earth; Even in Death

by A-Badgero

The challenge for many people today is to make death as environmentally friendly as possible.

Being environmentally friendly has become a large concern for most of the world’s population. People are beginning to realize that this Earth is not a renewable resource and if we want it to last we must take not only take action but take responsibility in our lives and even in death.

With more and more of society concerned about being as environmentally friendly as possible even in death the options for green funerals and burials have become one of the newest growing trends in the funeral industry.

With the many concerns about the harmful chemicals used to prepare a body for burial and also with the difference in cost, cremation has become a popular alternative to traditional burials.

Cremation is more of an industrial process and the impact of this more conveniently seeming way of dealing with bodies is often underestimated. Cremations have become a large concern when it comes to having an environmentally friendly funeral. When a body is burned it releases approximately 573 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. As well as CO2 emissions, noxious chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen fluoride and mercury from dental fillings are released. Studies completed by the University of Newcastle determined that the risk for birth defects and still births are much higher in babies whose mothers live near a crematorium.

The process of cremation uses an immense amount of energy. One cremation uses about 29 kWh of electricity which is enough to power the average home for almost two weeks. In India cremation rituals consist of burning the deceased on a woodpile. This process consumes approximately 300 kilograms of wood per cremation. India burns 60 million tons of wood each year emitting 8 million tons of carbon into the air. Due to the concern of the consequences of these negative affects several countries have implemented regulations for their crematoriums. European countries such as Sweden, Germany and UK have made it a requirement to filter the mercury out of smokestacks. In order to remove the mercury from the exhaust, the fumes must first be cooled to around 160 degrees Celsius and cleaned before being released into the air.

There is a lot of potential for reuse in the mercury abatement process. Some forward thinking towns have suggested recovering the “wasted” heat and using it in different establishments throughout the community to make the entire town more energy efficient. A crematoria in Sweden has been diverting “waste heat” to warm near by buildings. The township of Worcestershire proposed heating the public swimming pool at their local leisure centre with the excess heat from the nearby Redditch crematorium. The crematorium will provide 42% of the leisure centre’s heating needs except on weekends and holidays when the crematorium is closed.

Trying to combat the loss in natural materials and the negative affects on the environment India has begun developing a solar cremation system. Reflectors are used to harness the sun’s rays and redirect them to the target needing to be heated. By using this process they are able to use 75% less wood for fuel. The reflectors are designed to heat a two meter long crematorium chamber to above 700 degrees centigrade. However, there are some issues and concerns about using a solar powered cremation system. Of course with it being solar powered cremations are only able to take place on days where the sun is out and may be next to impossible to run in some parts of India during their winters and monsoon seasons.

Compared to the temperatures used for cremation in western culture the 700 degrees centigrade of a solar cremation in India is at the lower end of the heat needed to complete a full cremation. The result of this new method is the process takes much longer and the remains are much more recognizable, but is this price worth paying for the environment’s sake? For many crematoriums in India the answer is yes, there are already 100 crematoriums that have installed the solar powered systems across India so far.

The most creative scientists and engineers in the world have been working on creating new alternatives to both burial and cremations that would not leave such a large impact on the earth if it has to leave any impact at all.

Biochemist Sandy Sullivan developed the process of Resomation, an alternative to cremation that is more energy efficient. Resomation uses the chemical reaction of alkaline hydrolysis to dissolve a body leaving only the bones. The temperature within the chamber only reaches 180 degrees Celsius which is why resomation only uses an eighth of the energy it takes to cremate a body. The process takes about 2-3 hours and no byproducts are emitted into the air. Resomation is currently a new process that is quite expensive but as it gains popularity in Europe the possibility of it becoming common and more affordable becomes more promising.

Promession is a technology developed by environmental engineer, Wiigh-Masak, that is essentially the complete opposite of cremation. In this process the body is frozen with liquid nitrogen and as a result, the body fragments into small pieces creating almost a powder. Then a freeze dryer in vacuum conditions removes first all the water from the body, followed by mercury and any other metals before the body is placed in a biodegradable cornstarch casket. The casket is buried in shallow soil and within a year both the body and the casket become part of the soil. This process allows for the quickest continuation of the natural life cycle of any other option for disposing of a body.

Whether you are intensely dedicated to being as environmentally friendly in life and death as possible or you are just looking for the most cost effective option available one fact remains, you need to educate yourself and know your options. Make sure any decisions made are shared with your loved ones to ensure that your wishes are carried out to your specifications.

Read more:

Solar Cemeteries | Envirolibrium

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