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How to be eco-friendly when you’re dead

Forget black at a funeral. Think green.

Many cities are running out of burial space and conventional casket-in-ground burials change our environment, not only by introducing a lot of different materials to the soil, but also destabilizing it and preventing development.

While it’s nice to honor our fallen loved ones with their own space, it may not be sustainable to continue allowing everyone to have their own plot of land.

Each year, 4 million acres of trees are chopped down specifically to construct coffins, according to Care2. Additionally, 10 acres of a typical cemetery contain nearly 1,000 tons of casket steel, 20,000 tons of concrete in burial vaults and enough wood used in coffins to build 40 homes.

Embalming is a nice way to preserve a body for viewing during a funeral, but what happens when it’s put into the ground? About 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid are buried in U.S. cemeteries every year. It is highly toxic, and those toxins can leach into the soil and air. Even in small quantities it can irritate the throat and eyes, and in large quantities it can be deadly. Formaldehyde, a key ingredient in embalming fluid, has been labeled a carcinogen, potentially posing a risk to those who work in burial services.

Our burial rituals have changed quite a bit in the last few hundred years. For the early white settlers of North America, family plots were the most economical way to remember your loved ones. There was no embalming, and if there was a casket, it was simply made of wood. Ceremonies were common but weren’t as elaborate as they are today.

Cemetery upkeep has been a longstanding and costly issue in modern times as well. And keeping the grass green uses a lot of water, especially in places drier than upstate New York.

With the environment and costly process of burials, now might be a good time to consider other options.

Burial alternatives:

¯ Cremation is considered one of the most popular alternatives to being buried. The primary reason being they are usually half the costs of a traditional burial. With cremation services, you allow your family and loved ones to keep your ashes in an urn or scatter them in your favorite spot. Keep in mind though that cremation also has an impact on the environment. Standard cremations in most crematorium retorts require the burning of natural gas, and therefore the release of greenhouse gases. However, over the years, newer, more fuel-efficient crematorium retorts have significantly lowered the amount of carbon dioxide released in this process.

¯ Natural burial — This type of burial eliminates the need for a casket, which tends to be one of largest costs of a traditional burial. The body is wrapped in a shroud or biodegradable casket, allowing the body to decompose naturally.

¯ Bio urns — This is a neat way to allow you or your loved one to become a tree after death. The relatively newer concept allows the ashes of the deceased to be stored in a Bio Urn. The seed of the tree is germinated in the first part of the urn where the ashes are not. Once the decomposition process has begun, the tree roots are strong enough to make contact with the ashes where they then grow through the urn, allowing your loved one to be part of the tree.

¯ Eternal reefs — Using a steel sphere, a person’s cremated remains can be sealed inside and ultimately become part of a living reef. The downfall of these types of burial alternatives is they range upward of $4,000.

¯ Donate to science — Your body can be used in medical schools and anatomy labs to help educate students. If you’d like to have your body preserved in a semi-recognizable form, there’s a way to donate your body for “plastination,” the process of transforming your body into plastic to be showed for display.

¯ Cryonics — The body will be frozen in a cryopreservation tank that is used with hopes that at a later time when technology has improved can be recovered.

¯ Memorial diamonds — These are made by pressurizing the individual’s ashes into a diamond. The process allows these gems to be made into jewelry to serve as a keepsake of a loved one

¯ Artful ashes — Using the art of glass blowing, Artful ashes create unique glass memorials for loved ones who have passed away. Using a tablespoon of ashes, glass blowers are able to create a one of a kind orb and keepsake for their loved ones.

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