As society becomes more and more concerned about the environment, the efforts to lessen our negative footprint penetrate into all aspects of our lives. Thus, every year more people become conscious of the effects they have on the world around during their life as well as after they pass away.
With over 50 million people passing away worldwide each year in combination with the standard burial practices, there is a serious reason for concern. Although it is difficult to think about, what happens to our bodies after we die matters.
Many discard Cremation in preference of the traditional burial, believing it has a smaller impact on the environment. However, the issue is not that simple and straightforward as one might think.
It is true that cremation requires a tremendous amount of energy and fuel as the furnace needs to burn at 590-1797 degrees Fahrenheit to be able to cremate a human body. Such energy use makes cremation significantly more polluting, however only initially.
The idea behind burying a body is to return nutrients back to earth to complete a life cycle. Nonetheless, a traditional burial is not as eco-friendly as it may seem at first glance. Contrary to the idea of the life-cycle, almost every step in the traditional burial practice is set to preserve the body and slow down decomposition.
Firstly, the high toxicity of materials used for embalming compromises any benefit a natural decay could have for the soil. On the contrary, they can pose a serious threat to underground waters and ruin the soil for generations. Next, the increasingly more resistant and often chemically treated coffins, not only delay decomposition but also introduce unnatural materials into the ground which take years to break down. These burials permanently take up space with makes it rather unsustainable in the long run. Last but not least are the costs and duties connected to long-term maintenance of the grave. For a traditional burial to be ecological, many of the common practices such as embarkation would have to be abandoned.
Although cremation has a marked environmental impact, it is a one-time expenditure. Plus, the fossil fuels required depend largely on the state of cremation facilities. While older ones can be quite harmful, many new crematories use state of the art equipment that minimizes the use of energy and fuel. Plus, the invention of new filtration devices solves the issue of mercury emission caused by dental amalgam fillings. Also, many facilities are offering eco-friendly cremations which do not use any of the toxic chemicals used in an embalming process.
The least wasteful option is probably cremation with scattering, no urn or plot of land required to store the remains. With cremation is not all about technology but also about management. A lot of energy is spent on heating up the furnace, that is why many crematories try to lessen the environmental impact by processing the deceased in bulks and avoid doing so one by one.
To sum it up, even if cremation is not exactly 100% green burial method, in the long run, cremation utilizes significantly fewer resources than any other method of disposal.