The Greenest Cremation Possible…To Date

US flags at the Columbiarium of the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, on Memorial Day.

US flags at the Columbiarium of the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, on Memorial Day.

While estimates about the number of cremations in upcoming years are increasing, other voices have chimed in to state that cremation is not a viable green alternative to traditional burials. While we have a solution or two that can help eliminate your contribution to mercury toxins if you choose cremation, other options seem less viable for those who want to be cremated upon death.

In fact, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has issued a “Green Funerals” document that states, “cremation is not considered ‘green’ because the cremation process uses nonrenewable fossil fuels, even though cremation does use fewer resources than conventional forms of disposition. Cremation also produces airborne emissions. However, cremated remains do not need to be interred in a cemetery, which reduces land use.”

If you think that this organization is denigrating cremation because they want to sell more caskets and vaults and cemetery spaces, you might be wrong. They also state, “In a ‘purist’ natural or green burial, the body is buried, without embalming, in a natural setting. Any shroud or casket that is used must be biodegradable, nontoxic, and of sustainable material. Traditional standing headstones are not permitted. Instead, flat rocks, plants or trees may serve as grave markers; some cemeteries use GPS to mark the locations of gravesites. A ‘natural or green burial’ may also simply mean burial without embalming, in a biodegradable casket without a vault, when permitted by a cemetery.”

Other companies and entities are approaching cremation in entirely different methods. For instance, Natural Pioneer Burial is somewhat unbiased about their perspectives on cremation as they state the toxins that are created during the cremation process, but they downplay the mercury issue. Still, their perspective is pointed toward the natural burial as an alternative to cremation.

In other cases, communities are denying funeral homes the prospect of adding crematories to take advantage of the rising rates in the cremation process, because they fear the chemicals that these facilities might unleash upon their communities.

But, if your wish is to be cremated, you can ask for various options that can make your cremation as green as possible. The removal of any mercury-filled teeth, as mentioned previously in the link above, is one option and the most concerning. Other options include:

  • Making sure all plastic prosthesis and plastic burial items are removed before burning. Burning plastic creates toxins such as dioxin.
  • Make sure that you are not cremated while wearing jewelry or other items that may create toxins during the cremation process.
  • Use a rental casket for a viewing, if that is your wish, and use a green alternative for the crematory. Such options include cardboard, bamboo or other natural product, an unfinished wood box that burns easily or a shroud. Talk with your funeral home or crematorium to learn your options. These materials will help to reduce the number and intensity of toxins released into the atmosphere during cremation.
  • Learn whether your local crematory uses filters to help keep toxins from entering the atmosphere. If not, then find another crematory that might be suitable and reasonable to use in your area.
  • Choose a simple and biodegradable urn for your cremains. This option is most viable for those who want to have cremains scattered or buried. Using a container such as this for a home display is not feasible, as a sturdier option would provide more security for your cremains.
  • Hope that you live long enough to see changes in this industry, which will be cost-effective and that will reduce or eliminate a number of pollutants.

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