Burial vs Cremation - Environmental Impact
Islam prohibits body embalming and cremation, and despite no reference in the Qu'ran, tradition dictates the burial of the body within 24 hours, with the head facing Mecca.Similarly Judaism prohibits cremation and burial must be within 24/48 hours.A biodegradable casket is used and no embalming.
Protestant Christian burials have few requirements dictated.
Catholicism prefers that the body be present for the funeral and if the person is to be cremated, that is done after the funeral, the ashes are to be buried in an urn, not scattered or kept on your bedside dresser.
Hinduism has no burial, all bodies are burned, with ritual differing from region to region.
Without any religious dictates what are your options. Weighing up the advantages and disadvantages.
With decreasing land available for burial and an ever greater need to produce food, Cremation was/is seen as a modern cleaner alternative to burial with less of an environmental impact, but is it a cleaner method?
Traditional graveyards provide a finite amount of burial space, with the recycling of graves in the UK only currently permitted in London.
Coutts conducted research with Carlton Basmajian, the urban planning professor at Iowa State University. 76 million Americans are projected between 2024 and 2048 to reach 78, the average life expectancy. If they were all buried in standard graves it would require 130 square miles of grave space, which is approx the area of Las Vegas, before allowing for roads, pathways and trees.
Though contrary to popular belief, embalming is not a legal necessity, unless the body is being transported by air. Traditional Jewish funerals do not use embalming, a technique where chemicals are injected to temporarily prevent the decomposition of the body. It's done mainly for viewing purposes, an embalmed body looks more natural and can improve the look of a diseased or traumatized body .
As the body decays the chemicals leak into the surrounding environment and little is known about the affects of this on land and water. 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid is buried in the United States each year. Any possible problems with burial are overcome with woodland burials and even more so with most woodland burials placing less of an emphasis on embalming and more on the use of biodegradable materials.
Cremation is seen as the cleaner and more modern method, but has been found to release harmful greenhouse gases.
As well as water vapor, emissions include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride gas, hydrogen fluoride, mercury vapour. Compounds such as benzenes, furans, acetone are also emitted, these react with the hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride under combustion conditions to form polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) both of which are carcinogens. A study by the Cremation Association of North America has found that filtering crematorium fumes has little effect on the toxins released. However the harmful emissions only makeup a very small fraction of harmful global emissions.
Benefits with cremation often overlooked, include the recovery of hip and joint operation implements for return to the NHS in the UK and or recycling of said implement.
With both methods having advantages and disadvantages, I personally would elect for a woodland burial with no embalming and using only biodegradable materials.
In a world where woodland is being razed to the ground or damaged in the pursuit of profit, if burial grounds require woodland preservation and save such woodland from destruction, that can only be a good thing.
A Swedish company see here is trying to overcome both problems by turning the body to compost within just a few months. The body is freeze dried, by being frozen to minus eighteen degrees centigrade before being placed into liquid nitrogen. Then with the use of sound wave vibration the body is turned to an organic powder. The dust then has further water removed by being passed through a vacuum chamber where the mass is greatly reduced. At this point the dust can be disinfected and either cremated of buried.
Promessa has won awards from the Green Organisation as well as received recognition from UNESCO for the environmental benefits of the Promession process.
Fancy being freeze-dried to dust?
You may prefer to be liquefied. Alkaline hydrolysis, developed by Resomation in Glasgow, UK, dissolves the body by heating it in a chamber containing water and potassium hydroxide.
Whatever you preference, it's unlikely to be the way you wish without your instruction. Have you made a will and let your wishes be known to family and friends?
What would be your preferred method of disposal?