ECO-FRIENDLY FUNERALS GROWING IN POPULARITY
In a world where there is increasing pressure and awareness surrounding the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that more and more people are considering environmentally friendly or greener options regarding the imprint they leave behind when they pass on.
Although conventional burials are still by far the most popular way of laying loved ones to rest, there has been an increase in those choosing flame-based cremation as an option. This can be due to a range of reasons, including municipal cemeteries running out of burial space, as well as growing secularism among certain cultures.
However, flame-based cremation as a funeral option does add to the carbon footprint due to the use of fossil fuels in the cremation process, as well as the release of mainly carbon monoxide into the air.
The heightened awareness of the negative impact of carbon emissions, together with a wider trend towards more personalised funerals, has increased the demand for more eco-friendly alternatives as opposed to the more traditional ways of doing funerals.
What exactly is an eco-friendly or green funeral?
An eco-friendly or green funeral involves all aspects of a funeral that aims towards lowering the carbon footprint. This comprises the funeral or memorial service itself and the process of disposing of the body which may incorporate the use of eco-friendly products.
This may include any of the following:
- a small service that will lower the carbon emissions of transport to and from the service;
- sharing transport among mourners;
- using a casket or coffin made of biodegradable materials;
- wrapping the body in a shroud that is made of unbleached natural fabric like cotton or silk,
- the use of recycled paper products for the funeral programme;
- not embalming the body (which makes use of formaldehyde fluid that is toxic); and
- using flat rocks or natural stone, as well as plants or trees as grave markers.
There has also been a shift worldwide towards new eco-friendly ways for sending off loved ones. These include organic burial pods which are biodegradable pods that house the dead body and have trees planted directly above them. The pod enables the body to help nourish the growing tree.
Another green option that is being considered overseas is a process called recomposition whereby human remains are gently converted into soil. Closely linked to this is the Infinity Burial Suit, or mushroom burial suit which is a biodegradable garment that is worn by the deceased. According to its creators, Coeio, the suit has a built-in bio-mix made up of mushrooms and other microorganisms that aid in decomposition, work to neutralise toxins found in the body, and transfer nutrients to plant life.
Aquamation as a green alternative to cremation
According to AVBOB, the demand for more eco-friendly funerals is definitely increasing in South Africa. The group says the environmentally aware customer is demanding a biodegradable coffin and other products that will not affect the environment negatively. AVBOB carries a range of eco-friendly coffins and caskets that appeal to these clients.
However, the first really big change to a more eco-friendly way of disposing of bodies in South Africa was AVBOB’s implementation of the alkaline hydrolysis process, a first for Africa, late in 2019. Referred to as aquamation, this process is a planet-friendly alternative to traditional flame-based cremation. The process involves placing the body in a stainless-steel vessel and then using heat, pressure, and water with a high alkaline level to reduce the body to its basic elements. The end-result comprises a benign sterile liquid, which is disposed of through the municipal wastewater system, with the remaining bone minerals processed into a fine powder.
The environmental benefits of aquamation include no direct emissions of harmful greenhouse gases or mercury, a saving of over 90% energy compared to flame cremation, very limited burning of fossil fuels and virtually zero impact on water usage.