Eco-Friendly Death

Posted by Flux on 

6 March 2024

What’s trending?

Alternatives to burial and cremation are gradually increasing in popularity, the drivers being the desire to have an eco-friendly death and the shortage of burial land. Variants include 

  •  Vertical cemeteries are high-rise buildings with rooms on different floors for coffins and/or urns. The oldest and most well known of these is the Memorial Necropole Ecumenica in Santos, Brazil. It was inaugurated in 1991 and is 32 storeys high. There’s a crematorium, a chapel and a snack bar on the roof and the building is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Soccer legend Pele chose to be buried there when he passed away in January 2023. 
  • Aquamation (also known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis) is a water-based alternative to traditional cremation. The late Archbishop Desmon Tutu requested this eco-friendly method which uses about 90% less energy than flame-based cremation and releases no harmful greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Natural or green burials make up a small but growing share of all funerals. They are similar to traditional burials but there are a few differences: (1) Bodies are buried in a shroud or biodegradable caskets made of wood, bamboo or cardboard. (2) The grave is often dug by hand. (3) There is no cement burial vault. (4) No embalming fluids or toxic chemicals of any kind are used. (5) A shallow grave is an option to help speed up decomposition of the remains. 
  • Human composting is the process of converting bodies into soil by natural means. The body is placed in a container and wood chips, moisture and air are used to expedite the natural process of decay. After about a month, loved ones can collect the compost which can be used in gardens or flower beds. The process is a green and  energy-efficient way of disposing of human remains. 
  • Mushroom suits are a novel form of human composting. Beverly Hills 90210 star Luke Perry was laid to rest in a mushroom suit after he died of a stroke in 2019. Toxins are found in human remains and are released into the atmosphere during cremation or seep into the soil after burial. Mushrooms absorb and purify these toxins. After the human tissue breaks down, the mushrooms carry the nutrients into the soil to feed the trees and plants. Space burials are another new form of deceased body disposal.

Why is it important?

There are two major reasons why eco-friendly alternative end-of-life processes are important. The first is that we have limited space for burial. Population growth and migration to urban areas has resulted in a growing shortage of land for burials. In South Africa, authorities warn that if no action is taken to change how the dead are laid to rest, urban areas will run out of room in as little as 50 years. “Burial space is fast diminishing. This is caused by the fact that Joburg is currently experiencing high migration,” said Reggie Moloi, the city’s cemeteries and crematoria manager. The other reason is that there is an increasing demand for eco-friendly funerals. Burials use too much land and cremation releases too much CO2. However, it is worth noting that an eco-friendly burial makes up a miniscule part of the overall environmental footprint during an individual’s life. So, while these alternative burial options have a role to play in being environmentally responsible, it is more impactful to be greener in life than in death.

What can policymakers do about it?

Financial service companies that provide funeral services should keep track of these alternative burial options. Paying attention to the law surrounding them is key to offering the most relevant and sought-after funeral benefits.

There are also  business opportunities for start-ups to offer niche funeral services. Existing funeral providers should pay attention to what newcomers in this space are doing so as to remain competitive.

South Africa is a relatively conservative nation when it comes to cremation. However, we are seeing the slow adoption of funeral alternatives. Local provider of funeral insurance and services, Avbob, launched aquamation in 2019

Policymakers can play a crucial role in facilitating and regulating alternative burial options that aim to provide more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternatives to traditional burial practices, while acknowledging cultural sensitivity. They can define and legally recognise alternative burial practices, such as natural burials, green burials, and water cremation. Identification of appropriate locations for natural burial grounds to ensure compliance with environmental and public health standards would be recommended. The potential ecological consequences should be considered by policymakers and environmental impact assessments for alternative burial sites should be mandated. Public awareness campaigns about alternative burial options would provide information and potentially reduce the stigma associated with non-burial alternatives. 

By Flux Trends 

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