Changing the Face of the Funeral Industry

Why traditional funerals are bad

Once upon a time, cemeteries were located on the outskirts, but cities are expanding, so today burial sites are often surrounded by residential areas; at the same time, the territory with burials pollutes the soil and groundwater. This is not at all about the decay products of human bodies: by themselves, they are the most environmentally friendly that falls under the ground during a funeral; much more dangerous is what comes with them. Coffins are made of simple planed boards (these are used for the most budgetary burials), they can be upholstered with fabric, and wood can be varnished. Expensive coffins are made of precious wood and equipped with shaped metal fittings. Additional textiles are placed in the coffin, which is usually upholstered from the inside with fabric: a pillow and a bedspread, ritual ribbons, and other decorations. Do not forget about the funeral clothing, which is often bought especially for the ceremony.

We should also dwell on embalming. This is a procedure that is supposed to stop the decomposition process: it is carried out in order to preserve the body after death. It is impossible to completely stop the decomposition; it is only possible to slow it down a little by injecting special compounds. Embalming fluid is injected through the arteries into the bloodstream or into the body cavity through special incisions. Compositions for embalming are different: they can include formalin, mercuric chloride, alcohol, zinc chloride, glycerin. It usually takes three to four liters of the solution to treat one body. A solution of formaldehyde recognized as a carcinogen – formalin – is extremely toxic, and studies show that those who come into contact with it often have a higher risk of developing cancer. Besides, formalin gets into the soil, which is not good for the environment and all of us.

Cremation has a reputation for being a “clean” way to dispose of the remains: only the ashes remain from the body, which can be scattered through the air (if the laws allow it, of course). Nevertheless, the work of crematoria is not at all harmless to the atmosphere. The combustion process produces many harmful substances, including dioxin, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, which affect the climate. And all of this is not counting the carbon footprint. Scattering ashes downwind may also be not at all harmless, for example, in an alpine environment and places with a fragile ecosystem.

What is a “green” funeral

A “green” or natural funeral is what mankind throughout history has called simply a funeral: a body wrapped in a shroud is lowered into a pit, which is covered with earth, and no coffins are made of lacquered wood or metal or formaldehyde solution are used. So it cannot be said that this is a new idea, rather it is an old well forgotten by the industrial society.

Natural burials are carried out at a shallower depth than usual – in the most nutrient-rich soil layer, which contributes to rapid and natural decomposition. If the body is buried at a depth of about a meter, and not one and a half or two, as happens in most cemeteries, wild animals will not dig the grave, but the decomposition process will be faster. To reduce the damage done to nature, supporters of “green” burials suggest using simple coffins made of wood or woven from rods that quickly decompose in the ground, or even replacing them with a shroud, for example, made of organic cotton. Those who are meticulous are advised to check whether items and materials for burial have been transported long distances in order to assess the carbon footprint.

There are also special eco-friendly cemeteries – for example, the so-called forest cemeteries, where the graves are located among the trees. At the same time, the natural landscape is preserved, and the cemetery resembles a quiet park with paths. Flowers, trees, and shrubs can be used instead of gravestones, and graves must be found by coordinates.

Anastasia Fetter

Anastasia Fetter