Cremations: A Green Funeral Option?

    June 11, 2013 0 Comments


Green Funeral Consultant: Sarah Wambold

For those interested in green funeral options, don’t discount cremations completely as they do save on land and cost – and are not as bad for the environment as you may think.

Looking for a green funeral option? You may be surprised by the environmental implications associated with cremations.

According to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA), the top two reasons that people choose cremation are to save money and to save land. The amount of people choosing cremation has grown from around 15% in 1985 to over 40% today. For most people, cremation provides a simple, cheap and environmentally-conscious funeral plan. While they are correct that it saves money (cremation on average costs $5000 less than burial), there are some critics who say that cremation isn’t as environmentally-friendly as it seems. It may save on land space, but there are concerns around the emissions from the crematorium and the high energy usage needed to heat the retort. I want to address these issues surrounding cremation’s carbon footprint to help you sort out your best green funeral option.

The energy usage of the crematorium

In order to reduce a body to ashes, the crematory must reach temperatures of between 1400-1800 degrees Fahrenheit. This requires about as much energy as the average person uses in a month. This expenditure happens once per person, less detrimental than putting chemicals and non-biodegradable substances into the ground that will continually damage the environment.  There are also ways to offset your carbon usage. Carbon Neutral Cremations “assures that the emissions created by your cremation are offset with “carbon offsets” that support energy efficiency, renewable energy or reforestation and carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration projects.”

The mercury emissions of the crematorium

The concern here is that during the cremation process, the emissions that are released contain toxins – most notably mercury – from dental implants and other medical devices. While some devices (such as pacemakers) are removed before cremation, it is impossible to remove all. Many studies have been done to find out how detrimental the release of these toxins is to our environment, the most thorough being done by TNO in the Netherlands.  The results suggested that while there is a risk of environmental damage, it is remarkably lower than expected and lower temperatures release less toxins. New cremation technology is designed to determine precisely how low temperatures can be to fully cremate a body while also minimizing the amount of energy required. Make sure to research crematories in your area to select one that uses newer technology.

Green cremation

If available to you in terms of location or finances, you can opt for what is being called “green cremation” or alkaline hydrolysis.  This form of disposition reduces the body to ash using a liquid consisting of water and potassium hydroxide. It is heated to about 300 degrees, liquefying the tissue but leaving bone fragments which are dried and presented as the cremains. This method is ultimately the most environmentally safe, using less energy and emissions. It is, at this time, also more expensive.

In short, despite the objections to cremation being less green than it appears, it is still to be considered by those who want an eco-option. The carbon offset program is being practiced by many funeral providers throughout the country and alkaline hydrolysis is gaining in interest. As a consumer, it is important to realize that the more questions you ask that show your concern for the environment, the farther it will push the industry in the direction of making sure you have the best options.

This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Sarah Wambold, a Funeral Director and Independent Green Funeral Consultant in Austin, Texas. To begin planning a funeral and comparing funeral home prices, ratings, and reviews, visit eFuneral.com.

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