David from Full Circle Funerals discusses the rise in Green Funerals and the changes anyone can make to reduce their environmental footprint.
With the environment becoming increasingly influential in day to day decisions, green funerals are ever more popular throughout the UK. Whether you find yourself arranging the funeral of a loved one, or are considering options for your own, there are a few easy changes that can ensure a funeral is more environmentally friendly.
What are green funerals?
A green funeral is when the environment is considered when making funeral arrangements. One option is to incorporate certain environmentally positive elements into a funeral without restricting the entire process, or you can opt for a completely ‘green’ funeral. There are some well-known eco-friendlier funeral choices, however, some aspects still remain less discussed.
It’s commonly understood that flame cremation is more harmful to the environment than a natural burial, however, coffins are often connected with burials and have a carbon footprint associated with them. The impact of coffins remains largely unexplored, especially the overall process from the raw materials to disposal.
Why pick a green funeral instead of more traditional options?
The desire to include the environment in funeral choices often comes down to three key considerations:
Representing the individual’s values – It can be very meaningful to incorporate green strategies if the person’s values and beliefs included protecting the environment.
A time for reflection – Funerals often provide a platform to reflect, therefore including environmentally friendly options symbolises to those attending that the person who has died wished to leave a positive legacy.
Individual responsibility – As the environment becomes a more important conversation in society, making small green changes at your funeral enables a positive contribution to the environment.
How do you ensure you receive a green funeral?
If you are considering having a green funeral, it’s important to articulate these wishes, whether verbally or in writing, to those who will be responsible for your funeral arrangements. Once these wishes are clear, they will likely be followed, even if they’re not legally binding.
Having expressed clear wishes can have a comforting effect on the people arranging a funeral. By being able to fulfil any green funeral wishes, those arranging the funeral can have positive feelings from completing these wishes which can feel like a gift.
Should you choose burial or cremation?
Flame cremation emits mercury, dioxin and carbon monoxide; so burial can be the greener choice. If you choose to be buried closer to the surface this is even more preferable as the decomposition then becomes aerobic so is less harmful. As an approximate guide, we have found cremation results in 200kg of CO2, higher than burial which emits around 100kg CO2.
Other countries have explored eco-friendly alternatives to both cremation and burial. The first is water cremation, also called Resomation, and is the method where a body undergoes alkaline hydrolysis. This breaks down the body into amino acids, which are then transferred into the water system. This process produces ashes, which are slightly lighter in colour than flame cremation. Many machines used for Resomation are manufactured in Yorkshire, even although it is not approved in the UK yet.
The second option, which is accessible in the state of Washington, is human composting. The human body is mixed with wood chips and alfalfa which take just 30 days to change into compost. This is yet to be available in the UK but with pressure for environmental advances increasing, this may well change.
What’s the greenest option for a coffin?
There are plenty of options for biodegradable materials for coffins available, with the most popular being cardboard, willow or bamboo. However, the origin of the material and how far it’s travelled also has a significant impact on the environment so a locally grown and manufactured option may end up being preferable.
Should you wish to have a wooden or wood effect coffin, the greenest options are locally sourced wood like oak, cherry or pine. You can ask manufacturers for the source of the wood, and it’s best to look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) registration.
An increasingly popular choice is to skip the coffin altogether with green options like material shroud being available.
What’s the greenest option for funeral travel?
Another important aspect of in trying to reduce a funerals environmental impact is to consider the type of transportation used, as well as the distance the mourners are required to travel. Travel distance can be reduced by selecting a local burial ground and then holding the service in a nearby location. A simple but effective adjustment is to encourage people to travel in the same car.
Whilst many funeral directors promote their large fleet of vehicles, these are unfortunately usually diesel combustion engines. However, there are now growing opportunities to choose hybrid and 100% electric vehicles. At Full Circle Funerals, we have a very popular 100% electric Nissan Leaf eco-hearse which we introduced in 2016. Another option is to simply transport the coffin in your own vehicle should you have enough space.
What are the other considerations for green funerals?
Many other factors can influence a funeral’s environmental impact:
Choose a local memorial location which you can visit by walking, to avoid excess car travel.
Reduce funeral stationery and where possible switch to recycled paper.
For floral arrangements, avoid cellophane and prioritise using natural materials.
Source flowers locally or even consider handpicking them from your garden.
Don’t choose embalming as once a body is buried, formaldehyde could leak into the ground.
Plant a tree in memoriam – A single tree can produce 3,500 kg of CO2, therefore offsetting any funeral related emissions whilst while supporting nature, habitats and biodiversity.
What’s your next step for green funerals?
Hopefully, you now feel more informed about green funerals and some of the changes you can make to help reduce human damage to the environment. These changes can be implemented for your funeral wishes or when arranging another’s funeral. Full Circle Funerals is open to continuing educating anyone who is interested and welcome questions or challenges to the views expressed in this blog. This is just one way in which you can make meaningful improvements to the world we all live in.
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