Choosing the greenest option: cremation or green burial

October 24, 2014

When making funeral arrangements, which is the most environmentally-friendly option: cremation or green burial? While both methods are better for the environment than a standard burial, a green burial ultimately has less impact than a cremation. When making end-of-life plans, consider the specifics of each option and their impact on the environment.

Choosing the greenest option: cremation or green burial

Cremation options

Given growing concerns about pollution and growing emissions, a "green" funeral is an appealing option. Most cremations don't require any embalming fluids, which contain chemicals like formaldehyde. They also reduce the use of land space and wood for a casket, contributing to the perception of cremation as a "green" option.

While cremation is generally viewed as more environmentally-friendly than a standard burial, there are still drawbacks. Cremation requires a large amount of energy to complete the incineration process, with temperatures usually reaching between 760 to 980 degrees degrees Celcius for a long period of time. Large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere whenever a body is burned. If the deceased's dental fillings contains mercury, this toxic chemical could also be released into the atmosphere.

A new alternative to standard cremation is "green" cremation, which utilizes lower temperatures and urns that are made from materials such as bamboo which are more eco-friendly. To reduce the end-of-life carbon footprint, a "green" cremation is an attractive option.

Green burial options

Usually a green burial means burying a body in a manner that ensures there's no disruption in the natural decomposition process. For a more natural burial, the body won't contain any embalming fluids that can leach into the water supply and is usually placed inside a biodegradable casket or shroud. In addition to being less demanding on the environment, a green burial is usually less expensive than a standard burial.

A green burial site will usually have no marker or only a simple flat stone marker. The body is also often placed next to a tree or near a running river — a natural location with emotional meaning to the deceased and the family. Many also plant flowers, trees or shrubs directly over the body. These plants will inevitably thrive thanks to the body's natural decomposition process, which can create a powerful symbol of your loved one's connection with nature. The fact that green burials have such a low impact on the environment has led to a boost in popularity.

Many parts of Canada have certified green cemeteries, so take a look at what's available in your area. Speak with a local funeral director about the green burial and cremation options available.

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