Environmental Ways of Dealing with Death
Death isn’t something we like to talk about, but as individuals interested in leading eco-friendly lifestyles, it’s a subject that must be discussed. Strategies for how to save electricity and avowing to drive more fuel efficient cars are great measures for reducing our impact on the environment, but when it comes to the proper disposal of our remains after death we oftentimes decide to look the other way.
But the truth is that our most common methods of handling the bodies of the deceased – either by burial or by cremation – are quite destructive to the world around us. Putting a coffin encased in concrete into the Earth with an embalmed body inside is an intense violation of subterranean ecology, while super-heating remains for cremation utilizes enormous amounts of energy and funnels noxious fumes into the atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a more eco-friendly way to plan for the handling of your remains after death, consider the following five options (also see our other article Green Memorials):
Bios Urn: While utilizing the remains of cremation and therefore not technically eco-friendly, Bios Urns allow for ashes to be blended with the pre-packed soil of a ready-to-plant tree seedling. Placed into a biodegradable “urn” your remains will be absorbed by the roots of a growing tree, allowing for your negative impact on the environment to be balanced out by the adding of a tree to a world quickly running out of them.
Alkaline hydrolysis: This process sounds a little industrialized and therefore ecologically harmful, but it’s in fact perhaps the most environmentally-friendly solution to handling human remains yet to be devised. Essentially human remains are submerged into a tank of chemicals that dissolve tissue almost immediately and reduces bones to a floury substance. The waste is either disposed of via sewer system or used in a garden as compost.
Corpse-eating mushrooms: Fungi thrives on decomposing organic material, which makes it an ideal choice as a means to naturally dispose of human remains. The problem is that our modern diet packed with preservatives and toxins makes us not ideal food for most forms of fungus. Currently, there’s a push to “train” shiitake and oyster mushrooms to learn to like the taste of decomposing humans in order to provide people with an eco-friendly alternative to burial and cremation.
Greener burials: The traditional burial is not inherently destructive to the environment, it’s simply the additions we’ve made in the form of elaborate embalming techniques and “secured” burial vaults. By opting for a more biodegradable coffin and insisting that morticians avoid embalming in favor of alternatives, you can still have a “proper” burial without it being a detriment to the environment.
Donate to science: Whether for use by medical school students or for observation on a body farm, donating your body to science is not only ecologically kind, it’s a kind gesture paid toward the world of science that has enabled us to live longer healthier lives. If you’re okay with the thought of your body being poked and prodded long after you leave it, consider legally allowing it to be donated after death.
Leading eco-friendly lives means having to think about the environmental impacts of how we handle death. If you’re serious about becoming a greener person, than seriously consider ecologically kinder alternatives to traditional forms of handling human remains.
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