Many people pay a lot of attention to their way of living and strive for it to be green and sustainable.

But what happens once we die?

How green and sustainable are our funerals?

To make one thing absolutely clear right at the start: Funerals are amongst the most personal affairs in a human life and they are generally arranged, conducted, and attended by those who have just lost a loved one and are too occupied by their grief to pay attention to points like the sustainability of the floral decoration adorning the coffin.

We do not want to urge people to do that.

However, when you are thinking about your own death, perhaps while writing a will, there is time to take such matters into consideration.

In the western world, there are two standard funeral procedures differing in the form in which the deceased are interred, namely in the form of their mortal remains or cremated.

Other forms include mummification (as was the standard practice for the pharaohs of ancient Egypt) or cryopreservation.

There are many aspects of our traditional funerals that should be assessed with respect to their sustainability.

Flowers

Yes, in growing, the flowers consumed CO2 and generated O2.

However, if a florist in southern Bavaria obtained the flowers from a farmer in, say, the Netherlands, a country famous for its flower industry, then the small positive CO2-balance generated by growing the flowers is quickly turned into a negative one thanks to the haulage.

Coffins

The same argument holds for the coffins.

Usually made of wood, CO2 was consumed and O2 generated in growing the trees the wood was cut from.

If, however, the coffins were assembled in another country and transported to consumers (for lack of a more appropriate word) then this positive eco-balance is quickly reversed.

The same goes for the handles on the coffins. Obviously, there need to be handles, otherwise the pallbearers wouldn’t have anything to hold the coffin from. These are generally made of steel. In the case of cremation they are removed from the coffin before incineration. If the coffin is interred, they are not — a good example of linear economy.

Coffins are usually clad out with fabric and the deceased is usually dressed.

This is fine if the fabrics in question are linen or cotton, but not if they were made of artificial polymers (polyesters, polyamides, etc.).

Our very bodies

Our very bodies themselves need to be thought of as well.

Given the fact that the elderly die more often than the young there is a big chance that the body of the deceased contains things not normally found in a human body, such as artificial hip joints, pace-makers, boob-implants etc, or just residual pharmaceuticals which have accumulated in the body over time.

In case a body containing one or more of these is buried in the ground, they will cause problems in the soil and/or groundwater.

In case of cremation, they will generate contaminate the smoke which will have to be filtered and the filtrate will have to be disposed of properly.

Alternatives are available and many undertakers have taken these ideas on board.

For instance, bio-degradable coffins exist. [1]

In some cultures, the dead are wrapped in a linen cloth and interred without a coffin.

This is certainly the most sustainable way of a funeral but might be possible in your area due to the relevant rules and regulations.

Either way, it is a good idea to give these matters some thought before it’s too late.

If you do not know who to turn to for help, some companies or specialised in accompanying you or/and your closed ones at the end of their lives.

Check up the following company: https://macaria.be/.

Catherine Roupin, the founder, helps you see death as something happy, worry-less and peaceful.

She will help you plan a sustainable death if you wish.

[1] https://www.onora.eu/en/coffin/ , last accessed 2021.03.28

Co-Fonder of Trianon Scientific Communication. Expert in Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainable Development for SMEs — https://www.science-by-trianon.com

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