Alternative to Traditional BurialsThe ground has been shifting in the world of funeral services for the last decade or so toward cremation and other alternatives to more familiar methods of internment. Price plays a large factor, as does a change in Catholic doctrine to allow cremation. While this change is viewed by many to not only be far more affordable and ultimately less environmentally impactful than burials, others note that there are still issues with cremation that make it less than ideal for the planet.

Reducing the Carbon Footprint After Death

The ecological impact of traditional burials is being weighed more heavily by people looking to lighten the pressure they themselves put on the earth. Embalming fluid used to preserve the body contains formaldehyde which may leach into the soil with time. Although many caskets are made from wood, hardware, embellishments and varnishes reduce the ability of the wood to biodegrade in a timely fashion. Cremation generally eliminates the need for a coffin, and bodies are not embalmed prior to cremation. However, the process occurs at 1,562 F and according to the University of Melbourne may emit up to 350 pounds of greenhouse gases per corpse.

A More Carbon-Neutral Choice

An emerging choice in funeral services is a process called aquamation, touted to be a cleaner alternative to both internment and cremation. It is currently being used more widely with pet funerals, but there is movement to expand its appeal to humans. According to people who offer the service, aquamation is a greener, cheaper, more carbon neutral and unique option for people looking for something different.

How It Works

Aquamation uses alkaline hydrolysis to quickly break down the organic material. It occurs in a stainless steel vat, into which the body is submerged at 200 F in a solution of potassium hydroxide and water for four hours. The remains are comprised of the softened bones of the skeleton, which may be crushed and saved for the family. The liquid does not retain any traces of the deceased DNA. High alkalinity in the leftover liquid may be neutralized with citric acid or vinegar. The entire process uses only 5 percent to 10 percent of the energy needed to complete cremation. People who provide aquamation say it accelerates the progression of decay the body would experience if left to its own devices.

Already in Use

Aquamation may be relatively new as a funeral service alternative to the public, but it has been used for quite some time for other purposes. It is a method used to destroy cows infected with mad cow disease. It eliminates deadly prions and misshapen proteins that may cause disease. A similar technique, known as resomation, is the soaking method frequently used to dispose of bodies that have been donated to science. It has not been approved for use everywhere in the U.S. Resomation differs from aquamation in that the body is soaked for a shorter period of time at a lower temperature. Proponents of aquamation in Australia, where the method is enjoying an increase in popularity, insist that higher temperatures and top quality equipment ensure a safe and thorough process that makes a good choice for managing remains in a respectful and environmentally friendly manner.

A Wider Field for Funeral Services

Advocates of natural funerals believe the most earth friendly way to deal with one's remains is a natural burial. A body buried simply in a biodegradable shroud or container may be left to decompose beneficially into the soil without added toxins or chemical processes. Also, some say the constraints involved in legal funeral services in the U.S. diminish the cost effectiveness of alternative services. Still, open space for natural burials may be limited, and interest is building for new and innovative ways to manage how populations deal with bodies after death.

Category: Funeral


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