Dying to be green

G Magazine

Eco funeral alternatives that allow you rest in harmony with the Earth


Credit: iStockphoto

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My mother wants to be composted when she dies. Not just in a figurative "give my body to the Earth" way, but in a way that befits someone whose passion for gardening knows no bounds.

Her final act will be to produce the lushest crop of tomatoes and zucchini her garden and this world has ever seen. I'm not entirely sure what the health department will make of this request, but my mother doesn't care. She'll be dead.

As the Baby Boomers enter their twilight years and begin to consider the details of their demise, it's no surprise that this enterprising generation are pushing the boundaries when it comes to their funerals. And with the environment front and centre of society's conscience, many are planning their funerals with future generations in mind.

"There's a global movement towards green burial," says Zenith Virago, death consultant and president of the Natural Death Centre Australia in Byron Bay.

While Australia has been a little slower to twig than other nations, the funeral industry - coffin manufacturers, cemetery authorities and other organisations - are beginning to see the green light.

It's a good thing, too, because conventional methods of laying loved ones to rest are not doing the environment any favours.

Ashes to Ashes

As with the burning of any carbon-based substance, carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced. Cremating the average sized man pumps into the air just over 50 kg of the greenhouse gas, according to Roger Short, a reproductive biologist at the University of Melbourne.

This might not seem like a significant amount, but multiply 50 kg by the number of people cremated around the world and things begin to look a bit more sobering.

And this figure doesn't even account for the amount of fuel used to raise the temperature of the furnace to the 850ËšC needed to consume human remains fully. Nor does it take into account the carbon dioxide released from the burned casket.

"When you look around the world, here we are concerned about CO2 emissions and yet China have announced that because of the shortage of burial space all Chinese in the future must be cremated," Short says. "In terms of China's CO2 emissions, that's a staggering increase."

Cremation is also causing particular environmental problems in India, where Hindu tradition dictates the body be consumed by fire on a wooden pyre. With India's enormous and expanding population, this practice leads to the consumption of an estimated 50 million trees and produces half a million tonnes of ash and eight million tonnes of CO2 each year.

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