Eventually death meets us all, and it’s important to decide what you’d like to become of your body. What sort of environmental footprint will you leave? In this video, Funeral director Caitlin Doughty addresses these questions, and explores  ideas for burial such as recomposting, and conservation burial. These methods give our body back to the earth in an environmentally friendly, humble, and self-aware way.

North Americans spend tens of billions of dollars on funerals every year. With the baby boomers aging, these dollars will significantly increase with what Dr. Billy Campbell refers to as the “death boom.” In this video watch Dr. Campbell appeal to us to reevaluate how we spend our funeral money. Campbell explains that in the next 25 years, less than 10% of the money we’re spending on funerals, could be better used to protect the earth and future generations, by restoring over a million acres of natural land. This can be done by using conservation burial grounds that bring our bodies back to nature.

Below is an article featured on Science.Mic written by Max Plenke .  Read the article from the original website here.

Half a billion people are going to die in the next decade — and we can’t keep cramming their caskets into the Earth.

Every year, tens of millions of the 7.4 billion people on Earth will die. Some will be cremated, and millions will be buried in the ground, accompanied by pounds of steel, wood and toxic embalming fluid. As the population on Earth grows, so too does the one right below its surface — rendering the ground useless for new growth.

The question is this: Are traditional burials selfish? I mean, shit, probably.

“Americans are funny about feeling like they own a 4-by-8 plot for eternity,” Kate Kalanick, executive director of Green Burial Council, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “In an environmental sense, traditional burial is selfish for the impact it has. I don’t think people really think about how their death affects the land or our world.”

Traditional Burial Is Polluting the Planet. So Where Will We All Go When We Die?
Source: Getty Images

Let’s break down the numbers. Traditional caskets are hundreds of pounds of wood, metal and whatever cushioning goes inside. Ronald Reagan’s casket — a big mahogany tank of a box — allegedly weighed 400 pounds. Burial vaults, the enclosures that barricade each casket from the elements, can be around 3,000 pounds of cement, sometimes steel. For embalming, it seems the golden rule is one gallon of fluid per 50 pounds of body. Add it all up and you’ve got around two tons of material per body — plus a few gallons of an occasionally hallucinogenic embalming juice — chilling in the earth forever.

“Traditional burial is selfish for the impact it has. I don’t think people really think about how their death affects the land or our world.” — Kate Kalanick

Now zoom out. For all of the 7.4 billion people breathing on the planet right now, there are around 15 dead and buried beneath them.  The Population Reference Bureau estimated 107 billion people have, ever, roamed the planet, Live Science reported. We don’t know exactly how many of those dead people had traditional burials. But even if 10% of them were buried in a cement-tombed, mahogany casket, that’s still a colossal amount of shellacked, nonbiodegradable, poisonous crap going in the ground every year.

Traditional Burial Is Polluting the Planet. So Where Will We All Go When We Die?
Just a couple very large burial vaults
Source: Getty Images

Here’s the deal: Every body decomposes eventually; all the casket, cement enclosure and formaldehyde do is slow down the process. But sooner or later, the whole body — even the gallons of toxic, carcinogenic embalming fluid — end up in the water table of whatever place they’re buried.

Despite the downsides of burial, not everyone wants to be cremated. Plus, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting the energy it takes to burn a body down wreaks significant damage on the environment.

If we’re going to put bodies in the ground, we need smart ways to do it. That’s where organizations like Kalanick’s Green Burial Council come in.

Traditional Burial Is Polluting the Planet. So Where Will We All Go When We Die?
Source: Getty Images

The burial of the future: The idea of a green burial is to make as little an impact on the natural environment of the burial site as possible.

“Green burials negate that environmental selfishness,” Kalanick said.

Green burial grounds look a lot like the land did before it got filled up with bodies. The headstones are often rocks or trees indigenous to the landscape. There’s no cement vault. The casket is biodegradable and the embalming fluid is plant-based.

“If you look out across the site, it would look like a field or a wooded area,” Kalanick said. “It all depends on the natural landscape. But they aren’t maintaining the grass with chemicals.”

Traditional Burial Is Polluting the Planet. So Where Will We All Go When We Die?
Source: Getty Images

There’s even a green way to get cremated. Jose Vazquez is an architect and designer who created the Spíritree, an urn that takes the ashes of someone and turns them into a seeding ground for a new tree.

The problem with traditional cemeteries is you can’t do anything else with the land once bodies are under the ground, Vazquez said over the phone.

“The idea of my product is this continuation through nature,” he said. “You become a memory through a tree. The whole forest could be the collective memory of loved ones.”

“You become a memory through a tree. The whole forest could be the collective memory of loved ones.” — Jose Vazquez

A whole forest of grandparents sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. But at least it’s a horror movie that provides oxygen to people walking through the woods. And it’s less scary than all of those “dead” cemeteries that are a few hundred years old, turning into eyesores in middle-of-nowhere, Nevada.

Traditional Burial Is Polluting the Planet. So Where Will We All Go When We Die?
Source: Getty Images

Funeral trends are changing. Thanks to a recent shift in the funeral industry, new cemeteries won’t be taking up more and more of the Earth’s surface.

At least that’s according to Julie Found, funeral director of Found and Sons Funeral Home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She said cremation is more common than it once was, cutting down on the amount of space your body occupies after death.

“I think traditional burials — the embalming, the casket, visitation — are, for lack of a better word, dying,” Found said in a phone interview March 29. “It’s a weird time in the funeral industry. The public … doesn’t see the reasoning in paying $10- to $15,000 to bury a person in a cemetery.”

The environmental impact is starting to make a difference too, Found said — especially when the younger generation takes over their families’ funeral homes.

“The older generation, the people burying their parents right now, still don’t feel that impact,” Found said. “But my generation is concerned with the environment.”

“The older generation, the people burying their parents right now, still don’t feel that impact,” Julie Found said. “But my generation is concerned with the environment.”

Here’s a weird proposition: Young folks need to get less precious about how we treat our dead. Yes, loved ones need to be memorialized. But who’s to say thousands of pounds of metal and wood is still the best way to do it?

Maybe now it’s about letting their bodies become part of the land. Or turning them into trees. Because while a haunted forest grown out of your mom’s side of the family sounds frightening, it’s a hell of a lot less scary than a corpse- and chemical-addled Earth where nothing new can grow.

Published by Globe and Mail, Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Re: The Soaring Cost of Cemetery Plots to Die For (Report on Business Magazine, May 30th) People buy plots and contribute to a “perpetual care” fund, so cemeteries must be cleaning up financially – right?

No, mostly wrong.

Cemeteries don’t just put boxes in the ground and forget them.. They have to maintain the grounds.  Any idea what it costs to cut 60 acres of grass 10 to 15 times a season and, with luck, not damage any gravestones?  Tens of thousands of dollars.

What it costs to maintain the paperwork to trace the location of bodies over a century or two?  To set a stone upright after it has fallen over?  (Hint: You may need a crane.)  Remove a fallen or falling tree?  And so on.

Perpetual-care funds? Ha- that refers to the interest generated by perhaps a couple of hundred thousand of otherwise untouchable dollars every year.

These funds at most generate 1 to – with luck – 1.5 percent interest; 1 percent of say $250,000 is $2500.  With that magnificent sum, you have to run the cemetery (see above note re: costs).  And if the company (for- or not-for profit) fails to meet its obligations, the matter gets dumped on municipalities, already stretched to the limit financially.

The future of cemeteries is not clear; the article makes good points about that.  But I think the real focus should have been on some of the realities of cemetery financial management with no real money to pay for it – leaving aside funeral homes, which are a totally different matter.

Mary Lazier Corbett, Picton, Ont. 

CBC Radio One has begun an interesting series called “Death Becomes Us”.  To listen to this interesting segment covering natural burial and green death-care practices click here.

“Burying the dead can be hazardous to our health. Every year, across North America, enough embalming fluid is used to fill a swimming pool, and enough metal to build another Golden Gate Bridge. Cremation can be toxic too, creating vapours from mercury fillings and hip implants. Against this backdrop, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell concludes her three-part series with a look at the burgeoning green burial movement and its message of de-corporatizing death.”

Participants in the program:

Stephen Cave, philosopher, author of Immortality, The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, Berlin.

Josh Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, South Burlington, Vermont, co-author  of Final Rights.

Rochelle Martin, home funeral guide, Hamilton, Ontario.

Gary and Joy Warner, exploring the home funeral, Hamilton, Ontario.

Jusuf and Jody Warner, waiting to discuss their parents’ death plans, Toronto, Ontario.

Hannah Rumble, Department of Anthropology, University of Exeter, England, co-author of Natural Burial: Traditional-Secular Spiritualities and Funeral Innovation.

Mark Harris, green burial proponent, author of Grave Matters, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

 

what-has-nature-ever-done-for-us

I've just finished reading What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? by Tony
Juniper, former Director of Friends of the Earth, UK, and Britain’s best known environmental campaigner. Juniper makes a powerful point about how essential the natural world is to our survival. He also points out nature’s huge, but largely unrecognized contribution to the world’s economy. Juniper gives numerous examples, but I will cite only two here.
For centuries, Indian vultures have, with great efficiency, and free of charge, cleaned up animal carcasses all over the sub-continent, leaving the bones clean of meat and ready for pickup by people who collect and make their living from the bones. In recent years, however, the population of Indian vultures has been decimated by the chemical diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle, but which is toxic to the vultures who ingest it when eating the flesh of dead cattle. As a result, vulture numbers have declined by more than 97%. The result is millions of animal carcasses left to rot in the sun, and the added expense of disposing of the carcasses where the capacity exists to do so. In consequence, increasing numbers of wild dogs now roam the country, feeding on dead animals. The dogs don’t clean the bones as well as the vultures, so there is an increase in disease from the rotting meat and the bones are not in as good condition for the bone collectors. Also many more people get bitten by rabid dogs, leading to nearly 50,000 additional human deaths per year. The estimated cost to the Indian economy from decline of the vulture population is more than US$30 billion.

India has recognized the problem and has banned the use of diclofenac for cattle. However, a human version of the drug is still being sold and its presence in the environment is retarding the return of the vulture population.

Juniper also gives a North American example, comparing hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both category five hurricanes that roared onto the southern shores of USA in 2005. As we saw on our televisions, Katrina caused billions of dollars of damage as well as loss of life in New Orleans. Three weeks later, Rita came ashore 475 miles to the east of where the Texas and Louisiana borders meet, but Rita did far less damage. The difference is that the power of Rita was tempered by the marshy wetlands and salt marshes that extend out into the bay along that coast. In contrast, the flood surge from Katrina was able to follow the channels that had been cut through the coastal wetlands to allow access for shipping to and from the Mississippi River. This shows the importance of leaving natural shoreline buffer zones in place, especially as the climate warms and storms become more severe.

There are many other examples in the book that show not only how nature has helped keep the world in balance, but how it can also assist in
solving our global warming problem. For example, soil has a tremendous ability to capture and store carbon, something that has only recently been realized. Soil that is degraded or eroded has much less capacity to contribute these benefits. Forests, grasslands, and ocean ecology along our shores also have benefits that are only now beginning to be
recognized.

Juniper is particularly critical of the way mainstream economics assigns value to nature. Mainstream economics counts the value of a forest as zero until it is cut down and turned into lumber. Yet forests capture and store carbon, maintain biodiversity, hold and control the release of water, cool the climate, contribute to cloud formation, and help regulate rainfall.  This valuable contribution, which is done for us at no charge, gets no recognition in mainstream economics. Juniper says mainstream economists just don’t get it.

A driving force behind mainstream economics is the requirement to think
short-term. The need to show a profit in the next quarter trumps the more strategic need to plan for the medium or longer term, as will be required to ensure nature’s continuing contribution. Our brains are hard wired to worry about the here and now, and Juniper argues that this dates from our hunting and gathering days when we had to provide for and protect our families day by day. Corporations still tend to think that way, and governments, always preoccupied about the next election, are little better. Still, some corporations and some government agencies, particularly the UN, are now pushing the longer view.

The recently released UN report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) stresses the urgency to make the switch from a fossil fuel based energy system to a wholesale adoption of renewables. This is not new, but what is new is that the IPCC says the switch is both feasible and affordable; it should not have a major impact on the global economy. The report recognizes that carbon capture and storage must be included, but says the technology is untested and may be expensive. Juniper’s review of recent scientific findings that show that nature (forests and grasslands and the soil below) can help with this and do it free of charge.
To my mind, this is the most optimistic book about the environment that I’ve read in a long time. Not only does it set out ways to solve the huge environmental challenges we face, but it points to the economic benefits of doing so. As more and more governments and corporations see an economic payoff from preserving and restoring nature, the more likely it will be that the power structure will get on board. There are signs that a new branch of economics-environmental economics-is gaining ground. As more and more people realize that one of the things we have to do (not to minimize the challenge!) is to preserve and restore nature so it can get on with the job of doing all its good work for free, perhaps all hope is not lost after all.

I hope others will read Juniper’s book and talk it up with anyone who will stand still and listen.

It might even influence the way we vote!

Ken Shipley

 

By Tiffany Kelly

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Caitlin Doughty has been cutting pacemakers out of corpses, grinding human bones by hand, and loading bodies into cremation chambers for seven years. But the 30-year-old mortician doesn’t want to keep all the fun to herself: She thinks the rest of us should get to have a little more face time with the deceased. In her new book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (that’s a cremation joke), Doughty argues for more acceptance of death in our culture—and tries to spark a wave of amateur undertaking.

Are you really saying that people should handle their loved ones’ bodies? Can we do that?

Most people think dead bodies are dangerous or that they’re required to hire a funeral director to prepare a body. I’m a licensed mortician, but I want to teach people that they don’t need me. If you’re keeping the body at home, you could put dry ice around it and that would last for a couple of days without any problems. You usually only need to hire a professional for a cremation or cemetery burial.

But … why would I want that?

We don’t see dead bodies anymore. You have to talk about death when you have dead people laid out in your living room on a monthly basis or if you take care of bodies yourself. But when a group of professionals comes in and takes the body away and then basically sells the body back to you a couple of days later, nobody has any proof that we’re going to die. It’s become this taboo, pathological, hidden thing.

Pristine, embalmed corpses don’t help us embrace death, do they?

A chemically preserved body looks like a wax replica of a person. Bodies are supposed to be drooping and turning very pale and sinking in while decomposing. Within a day or so after they’ve died, you should be able to see that this person has very much left the building. That’s the point. I think dead bodies should look dead. It helps with the grieving process.

What do you want to happen to your body after you die?

I want a natural burial. Just straight into the ground in a shroud. But that’s because what’s not legal yet is having your body laid above ground for animals to consume it. That’s what I really want. I would love to be eaten by animals, because I eat animals and I’m an animal, and when I die they get to eat me. That seems only fair.

 

Read this article on Wired online.

Download the PDF of this article.

We all know about the benefits of composting. It makes our wastes reusable while providing nourishment for the soil and promotes a healthy environment. Composters are a staple to the healthy garden and a part of your everyday environmentalist’s kitchen/backyard. But how comfortable do you feel about composting your loved ones?

If you think about it, natural burial really is composting. We return the body in its simplest form to earth to decompose and break down to be reused by plants and bugs slowly becoming one with the earth again. Urban Death Project wants to take this concept a step further so not only does your body return to the earth, but can then be used to help your garden grow.

We feel that this concept is a great idea, but it misses on one important thing that natural burial ensures- conservation of the environment. This is an option for people who like the idea of cremation because you can then scatter the remains or have them at home. In turn your mom can become a part of your garden, or you grandfather can offer nutrients to a young sapling.  This will also be a great option for people who do not have access to a natural burial cemetery or in busy cities where places for burial are few and far between.  We are very excited to hear more about the execution of this project and hope that it can become an alternative to cremation to people in Canada.

Read TreeHugger’s article which summarizes and reviews the concept of the Uraban Death Project. You may download the article here..

As well, we encourage you to check out the Urban Death Project’s website for more information.

 

Written by Derek Markham

urbandeathproject

Instead of preserving the body of the deceased with embalming fluid, and then burying it in a casket designed to last for years and years underground, this project aims to turn them into compost.

When viewed from an environmental perspective, traditional burials, which preserve the bodies in a casket or vault underground, basically tying up space and materials forever, are not sustainable by any stretch of the imagination, especially in high population areas, where access to land is a limited resource. Not only do all the funeral and burial trappings require a steady supply of materials, which first need to be extracted or harvested, and then manufactured and transported, but then those materials (as well as the resources tied up in the human body) get taken completely out of the loop, because they’re placed 6 feet under the ground.

So-called ‘natural burials’ and other green burials and green funeral practices are nothing new, and we’ve covered them many times over the years, but the Urban Death Project is planning to not only reduce the environmental and social costs of death, but to actually ‘close the loop’ with the human body.

The brainchild of Katrina Spade, an Echoing Green Climate Fellow who wrote a Masters thesis entitled “Of Dirt and Decomposition: Proposing a Resting Place for the Urban Dead”, the Urban Death Project is “a new system for gently and sustainably disposing of the dead using the process of composting.”

“The project utilizes the science of composting to safely and sustainably turn bodies into soil-building material, which is then used by nearby farms and community gardens. The Urban Death Project is transforming an industry where wasteful, polluting disposal practices are the status quo.” – Katrina Spade

At the heart of the system is a three story core structure, which acts as both a giant composter, where microbial activity and aerobic decomposition convert the bodies (along with high-carbon materials like wood chips and sawdust, which are needed for optimal composting activity) of the deceased into a rich soil-building material, and which also functions as a contemplative space for mourners.

The body is first placed in the top of the core and covered with wood chips and sawdust, and as it decomposes, over the course of a month, it settles down to the bottom, where a rich, finished, compost emerges.

© Urban Death Project

“Friends, family, and the neighboring community take the compost to their homes and gardens. In this way, the dead are folded back into the fabric of the city and reborn to support new growth.” – Urban Death Project

According to FastCoExist, Spade is now working on the project full time, thanks to the Echoing Green fellowship, and is working toward building a prototype in Seattle. If the prototype performs as designed, then finding a location for a full-scale version of the facility will follow, perhaps eventually allowing our bodies to do one last good green deed.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

-Henry David Thoreau (Walden)