Both cremations and burials contribute to the huge environmental impacts of funerals.
Over our lifetime, many of us would have recycled countless reams of paper, cardboard boxes, glass bottles and beer cans. We might have made a conscious effort to turn the lights off when we leave the room, to reduce our environmental impact. As we become more aware of the carbon footprint we leave behind in life, Bare Cremation is working to reduce the environmental impact of death, too.
In an age of climate change awareness, it is important to us at Bare that Australians are sent off with minimal impact on the environment.
What are the environmental impacts of a funeral?: burial vs cremation
There is an ongoing debate about whether burial or cremation has a lower environmental impact. That is largely because both cremations and burials leave behind a significant environmental footprint. A 2008 report found that each burial at Adelaide’s Centennial Park generated about 39 kilograms of carbon dioxide, compared with 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for each cremation according to a findings of a study on environmental impacts of funerals, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.
But weighing up the long-term impacts, the study found that burial generally has a 10% higher environmental impact than cremation, as it is a more labour and resource-intensive process. Much of the emissions come from maintenance of the gravesite and cemetery lawns over the years. Burial occupies scarce and valuable land, while cremation leaves little trace.
Embalming fluid is another huge contributor to damaging the environment, as the chemicals are buried in the ground and gradually work their way into the soil and underground waterways. It’s shocking that an average 4 hectare cemetery holds enough embalming fluid to fill a small swimming pool. Buried bodies also release methane as they decompose.
On the other hand, cremation releases harmful gases like mercury and dioxin. And the energy needed for one single cremation is the equivalent of the power an average person uses for an entire month. Technological innovations, like mercury filtering equipment, are helping the cremation industry to reduce its carbon emissions further, to become a more sustainable funeral solution.
Another consideration of the environmental impacts of funerals is the amount of wood needed to produce a traditional coffin and the carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing process. To keep emissions low, we only use bio-board coffins with our Bare Cremations. These are a type of environmentally-friendly product similar to a 'cardboard coffin'. These coffins have a lower carbon footprint to both make and cremate, compared with the glossy mahogany caskets commonly used in traditional funerals.
How to plan a more eco-friendly funeral
Families looking for more sustainable funeral options might consider some of the following options:
- A sustainable coffin made from bio-board, wicker or cardboard, without metal handles;
- Dress the body in biodegradable garments like cotton or wool;
- Plant a tree in memory of your loved one;
- Publish online or social media funeral notices instead of newspaper print advertisements
- If you are arranging a burial, consider a green funeral or natural burial
- Print memorial cards made from recycled paper
- If you’re having a funeral, email out an electronic Order of Service rather than printing copies
- If you’re arranging catering at a wake or memorial, order food that’s sourced locally
If you are planning a cremation, you might consider purchasing a biodegradable urn from The Living Urn, which allow for ashes to be planted with a tree. The Eco Burial Urn is an all-natural burial urn made from bamboo, a 100% sustainable resource. You can learn more by reading our article on tree-planting memorials here.
One of our funeral arrangers would be happy to add a living Urn to your Bare arrangement if you would like to give us a call on 1800 071 176.
Final thoughts on sustainable funerals
While cremations generate more carbon emissions than burials at the time of interment, their long-term impact is around 10% less than that of burials, due to cemetery maintenance. Another large consideration is the emissions needed to produce a more elaborate mahogany coffin, compared with a simple bio-board or cardboard coffin generally used in direct cremations. More info on the reasons people chose cremations can be found in our Complete Guide to Cremations here.
Funeral providers are increasingly understanding the need for burials and cremations to be more eco-friendly. So, if a sustainable funeral is important to you, it is worth spending some time to research the funeral options available.
Don’t be afraid to ask funeral directors questions about how their arrangements are leaving behind a smaller footprint. If they can’t give you the answers you are looking for, consider a more sustainable funeral provider.