Can biodegradable be a personal option?


Up until now all of my blog posts have argued that political policy and corporate responsibility are the key components in creating biodegradable products, design and materials. But this post will be the optimistic opinion, because in the last important choice anyone makes for themselves or their loved ones there is a biodegradable answer: biodegradable caskets. For centuries ancient societies used mummification to preserve the physical being of a person, most often for important individuals. There is one society still mummify their dead (National Geographic, April 2010). There is also a group in Utah who offer a pet mummification service. More recently in the rest of the world cremation and wooden or metal caskets inside of concrete boxes, or even sarcophagus's were the options for preparing the body after death. While there are these small groups who are still preparing bodies for the afterlife in the least biodegradable way possible, there are more people planning on cremation or allowing their body to break down into the earth quickly.

With the population of the world growing and growing, and cemeteries filling capacity, our world really is shrinking. So why not save some space and become your own biodegradable option? While some cemetaries prefer that new residents use certain materials that are not very "green," there is a way around this. The law in Minnesota states that funeral plots can be made on personal property as long as the property is 3 or more acres. And for those looking to have a beautiful casket for your ceremony then there are a variety of casket designs made from untreated wood or even paper. There are a great deal of religious and personal issues that abound with the topic of death, but I think that people are starting to think about the world as a place that they can leave without leaving behind a physical trace for decades to come. I also think that since people feel so strongly about death this is one area of biodegradability that the government would be unable to pass any sort of strict regulations. I respect that people have the choice to do with their bodies what they feel is best for their beliefs, whether they are religious and/or environmentally minded (because I do not think that those two things are opposites).


The biodegradable option is a hot topic in the funeral industry. I have worked at a funeral home for several years, and it is really interesting to see how this trend has grown. It is still not used much here in the Midwest (we are more traditional), but on the West Coast there are whole cemeteries for people who will be cremated and buried in biodegradable containers.
Unfortunately the actual act of being cremated is not really that great for the environment, the emissions and energy used for crematories are pretty incredible. There are several other options being developed that are must better for the environment, but they tend to make people a little squeamish. The best option I have heard of is having the body essentially chemically melted and what is left turns into a very fine white powder (much more attractive than what is left after a cremation), but because it is basically the same technique that murderers use to dispose of bodies down tub drains, there is a lot of political power moving against its use. But, it is really a much better option for the environment and ultimately has nicer results.
I spoke once with one of the cemetery managers I know about cremation vs. traditional burial and other alternatives, and although in the funeral business we all know that traditional model make the most profit, there is something to be said for the peace of mind that comes with knowing where your family members are buried and having a real place you can come to to grieve. Just having a headstone or a niche somewhere is comforting somehow, and I personally love cemeteries for that reason. Does the family get the same sense of fulfillment with a scattering or an unmarked grave which will eventually grow over and disappear? I don't know... I think that we do need to come up with alternatives to burial (don't tell my employers), but I think it needs to be balanced with the need for closure and grief.

Also, on a side note, if anyone is interested in what options there are for body disposal, I highly recommend Mary Roach's book 'Stiff,' it is gross and yet hilarious and very thorough!

When you really do think about the ratio of all the people that have ever lived vs. how many people are currently alive, things like biodegradable caskets (natural ones like wood or linen etc.) seem like a much better idea. Just imagine if all the people that have ever existed were buried in metal tubes! There would be no earth left to walk on, just metal dead-people tubes.

Curious - what society is it that still mummifies their dead, and is it in the traditional sense? I know embalming is not the same thing and it is also not good for our planet. Very interesting!

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This page contains a single entry by andre371 published on December 2, 2010 11:57 PM.

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