Eco-friendly Final Life Transition

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green urn

There are two things everyone has in common – eating and dying. I have talked plenty about how to eat sustainably, so now I want to talk about how to die sustainably. Creepy? Read on!

I touched on this subject a few years ago writing about how to be the greenest we can be. A friend once said that when he died, he wanted to be left out in the desert for the buzzards and become part of the food chain. He has since passed away, but I am sure his family didn’t grant that wish! His idea, though, seemed to be a final send-off with the lightest environmental impact.

Why are funerals not eco-friendly?

Caskets are usually made of rainforest wood that is not sustainably harvested and then gets transported 1000s of miles. There is a big impact right there. Stains, varnishes and sealers are toxic and break down in the soil.

Vaults that caskets are placed in are concrete, one of the least environmentally friendly materials we make. These are not required by law but come as a huge added expense.

Embalming fluid, a preservative and disinfectant, is a solution of water and formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, that breaks down into the soil over time. Aside from that, it increases the chance of cancer and other ills for morticians and funeral related employees. Embalming is not required by law, but sometimes it is a necessity.

Funerals are very expensive. Funeral homes are businesses trying to make a profit. They have been known for taking advantage of the bereaved and talking them into buying the best and most expensive materials and services to honor their loved ones. This is not in the realm of ‘taking care of each other’, which is part of a conscious lifestyle. It’s greed.

Cremation still requires the use of a casket and embalming fluid as well as enormous amounts of fuel for the burning process. It also releases the toxic chemicals from the formaldehyde and our mercury dental fillings.

Cemeteries take up hundreds of acres of open land, and a burial does a lot of damage when a backhoe digs the hole. Bare, unsightly mounds are left to settle over many years.

All that said, how could you green up your final transition without being laid out for the buzzards?

What constitutes a green funeral?

Simplicity – Spending less money is a good place to start (or end) a simple lifestyle. Find out what is required by law in your state, and don’t be sold on things you don’t need.

Natural materials that biodegrade – A simple wicker basket, pine box or cardboard box are viable alternatives to a casket of imported wood and a concrete vault. Embalming fluid can be made of essential oils that preserve and disinfect. Wrap the deceased in a shroud of natural fabric, such as cotton, hemp or silk.

Less toxic cremation – Find a crematorium that has emission controls in its exhaust system. Instead of using a traditional casket, use a cardboard or plain pine box. Biodegradable urns are now available, and they can be buried in a treasured spot in its entirety.

Green cemeteries – Burial grounds are now being turned into nature preserves. The land is disturbed as little as possible, stones must lay flat, and native plants are used to restore the area and bring in native wildlife. You would have to look hard to know this is a cemetery.

Make it meaningful – A holistic approach is part of a green lifestyle. Not only do we save energy, eat organically, carpool and recycle, we are neighborly and loving to others. Find a funeral director that is honest, empathetic and promotes sustainability. Read this New York Times piece to get inspired!

Save the earth for those left behind

A funeral is going to have some sort of an impact on the earth. Choose ways to reduce the damage to the environment and your family. Study other cultures and religions. Many bury the dead in a shroud directly in the ground. Others bury their family members in the yard. Some don’t allow embalming or preservation at all. Do some homework and make plans with family members.

If you are a baby boomer or a child or grandchild of one, do some research with the Green Burial Council. Read about caskets, embalming, cremation and green cemeteries, and talk to your local funeral home about alternatives to a traditional funeral. Make your final act as environmentally friendly as possible to preserve nature for those left behind.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.