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Is Cremation Environmentally Friendly?

July 1, 2019

While cremation can be friendlier to the environment than other methods of final disposition, cremation does have an impact on the environment – from the energy necessary to complete the process to the toxic chemicals that get released into the air. However, there are some eco-friendly options for cremation.

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Many families are now aware of the environmental impact of death, and they are looking for alternatives that may leave less of an impact on our environment after they die. Cremation has become an increasingly popular choice for many people for several reasons including environmental concerns. For one thing, cremation does not have the land use issues of traditional burial. Following cremation, your loved one can be stored in a memorial urn, placed in a columbarium, planted as a tree, kept in memorial jewelry or scattered in a meaningful place. All of which take much less space than a burial plot which also must be maintained and watered over time.

But, did you know that the high temperatures needed for one cremation requires the equivalent of two SUV tanks worth of fuel? Also, toxic chemicals are released into our air during the cremation process, including carbon monoxide; sulfur dioxide; soot and possibly mercury emissions from dental amalgam fillings. However, crematoriums contribute a very small fraction of air pollution or greenhouse gases when compared to worldwide toxin release.  

Traditional cremation in a crematory uses heat with temperatures ranging between 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the body to its basic elements and dried bone fragments. But there is a greener method called water cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis or bio-cremation.

Bio-cremation

With bio-cremation, the body is placed in a special chamber of water where it is subjected to heat, pressure and potassium hydroxide, or lye. The result is similar to heat cremation with up to 30 percent more mineral remains than traditional cremation. Bio-cremation uses 90 percent less energy than heat cremation and produces much less carbon dioxide. While the sterile solution resulting from the process is safe to drain into a sewage system, it does require about 300 gallons of water per cremation.

Bio-cremation is currently legal as a method of final disposition in parts of Canada and in sixteen states, including Maine, Florida, and Oregon, but not Massachusetts. The process had been legal in New Hampshire for several years but was banned in 2008 due to opposition by religious lobby groups, and a proposal to legalize it again was rejected in 2013. It was originally used for bodies donated to research at the University of Florida in the 1990’s and has been in use at the Mayo Clinic since 2005.

Other elements of a so-called green cremation include the use of environmentally friendly caskets that don’t release harmful chemicals into the air during the cremation process. Cremation urns can also be made of biodegradable materials such as Himalayan rock salt or corn starch.

So, is cremation environmentally friendly? Cremation can be environmentally friendly if done properly. It produces less environmental damage than traditional in-ground burial and can be even safer for the environment through bio-cremation and the use of biodegradable urns.

If you have further questions about cremation, the cremation experts at Keohane can help. Please call us at 1-800-KEOHANE to find out which of the many options available are right for your family.

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