A Woodland Burial


Woodland Burial or Natural Burial

One solution to traditional urban burials in deep graves is to use a plot in a rural area, often a farmer’s field, which is then planted up with native trees and becomes a memorial woodland.  These graves are often relatively shallow, allowing oxygen and aerobic decomposers the chance to recycle the remains, and there is less chance of groundwater pollution because this choice of burial often doesn’t allow the use of embalming or glues in coffins.  These are becoming increasingly popular and are perhaps the most environmentally friendly choice. See our directory of sites.

Composting Burials

The exciting future of green funerals is likely to be based on an aerobic decomposition process which emits no methane and takes up very little land permnently.  ‘Promession’ has been developed in Sweden by a biologist who understands that bodies are biodegradable and can be returned to the living soil with minimal greenhouse gas emissions.  Promessa UK is on the verge of offering this technology in Britain.  However, another UK company, Cryomation, is offering a similar freeze-drying process, and has recently signed an agreement with a Dutch funeral provider and is also close to being commercially available.  

Both these funeral options use liquid nitrogen (a waste product of the oxygen industry) to freeze the body to -196 Celsius.  Promessa has developed a vibrating table which reduces the body small fragments, whereas Cryomation has another method which the company is rather secretive about. Following the disintegration of the body, any metals such as tooth fillings and artificial hips are removed, and a vacuum applied which removes all the moisture. The remaining freeze-dried organic material, which weighs approximately one quarter to a third of the original body weight, is placed in a biodegradable casket and may be set in a shallow grave where aerobic bacteria and fungal decomposers compost the material into soil within a year of interrment. Alternatively the remains may be scattered in a favourite place where they will return to the cycle of life.

Promession is currently being developed in Sweden, South Korea and the UK, Cryomation in the UK and the Netherlands.  This website will report on the progress of the technology worldwide.

Water and Alkali disposal

This is another new technology, using potassium or sodium hydroxide and and sometimes heat and pressure to dissolve the tissues. Sometimes known as ‘wet cremation’, this process leaves a powder not dissimilar to bone ash, or a liquid which is easy to dispose of.  This has considerably lower carbon emissions than cremation. There are several different companies offering this young technology, including Resomation Ltd, h2u (CycledLife) and BioSAFE Engineering.   CycledLife started offering it’s technology to US funeral homes in June 2010.

Burial at Sea

Burial at Sea

An unusual option is burial at sea, but there are only a handful of these each year for non-seafarers.  The UK has three sites where this is allowed, and there are some complex administrative procedures that have to be followed.  The body is placed in a specially constructed and weighted casket, and placed in the ocean some way from land where it will not be disturbed by dredging or trawling.  It descends to the depths and becomes part of the marine environment. There is a specialist South-coast shipping company which is available to help with these funerals.

Donate to Science

Some people decide that their mortal remains should be used to advance scientific and medical knowledge.  They will have made their wishes known to family or other contacts, and the teaching hospital or research institution will make arangements once informed of the person’s death.  There is no need for a casket, or funeral, although the circle of friends and relatives may wish to hold a memorial ceremony or wake.  The person’s remains will be incinerated by the grateful institution.

A Blue Ecopod

Alternatives to Traditional Coffins

There are a wide range of cardboard, papier-mache, woven willow and other natural material coffins and caskets.  Some are made in the UK, one supplier has ‘fair trade’ coffins imported from China.  It might be that the casket is not wanted at all, in which case a shroud may be used. See our Directory of Services and Products.

Cremation on a Wood Pyre

One form of cremation, widely used around the world, is an open-air wood pyre. A ruling in early 2010 may have now allowed this to be offered in the UK, once appropriate premises are built and if all existing legislation is able to be complied with.  This can be thought of as a greener cremation alternative as it replaces fossil gas with renewable wood, although the lower temperatures might result in particulate emissions (smoke) and possibly other pollutants associated with bonfires.  This website will report on any developments regarding this choice.

Greener ‘Traditional’ Cremations

Although cremation in a normal crematorium uses fossil gas, what normally happens is that the furnace is heated up, the coffin put in, and then when it is completely reduced to ash, the gas is turned off, the contents allowed to cool and the residual material placed into the urn to return to the relatives.  This allows the relatives certainty that the dust in the urn is the remains of their loved one.

However, this individual cremation uses more gas than it needs to, as lots of energy is wasted by heating the chamber up and letting it cool.  Group cremations are a bit more eco friendly, as the furnace remains hot, and a series of coffins are placed in, one after the other.  But this means that the ash in the furnace bottom is a mixture of the remains, and that may not be acceptable to some.  But eco-concious people who opt for cremation could ask the crematorium management about this choice.

There are also moves to reclaim some of the waste heat from the crematorium chimney, and using this heat either to warm the premises or to run generators to make electricity.  This technology would cut the carbon footprint of what is normally a very carbon intensive process.

Greener Transport Options

A motorised hearse isn’t the only way to travel… alternatives include horse-drawn, on a motorbike sidecar, maybe even a tricycle rickshaw.  There are no rules and regulations about how the body is transported to it’s final resting place, but there are plenty of choices, some of them much lower carbon or appropriate to the deceased.

Virtual Memorials

One solution to the space and expensive resources used bya grave and a headstones is the use of electronic media.  To remember and honour the deceased, a virtual memorial can be set up in a dedicated building at the cemetery or there are companies which facilitate this at special websites.  These may be added to by family members and friends and are a very modern and innovative development.

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