Around the world over 150,000 die every day and as space for traditional burials becomes sparse (it is estimated that half of the UK’s cemeteries will be full by 2020) cremation has been the growing alternative; seen as potentially more eco-friendly, practical, and inexpensive alternative. Yet the first of these may not actually be true, as a typical cremation emits harmful chemicals into the atmosphere during the burning process.
What, then, are your alternatives? Here is a helpful list of viable end-of-life options.
A natural burial is all about allowing a simple and fast decomposition. A biodegradable coffin or shroud is used to cover the body, which is then buried in a shallower grave where conditions for a speedy decomposition exist. Often a tree or shrub will be planted nearby to mark the grave instead of a headstone. This option particularly appeals to environmentally conscious people and those who want to be at one with nature.
Formally called alkaline hydrolysis, this is one of the newest end-of-life options and therefore very few know about it. Most easily understood as cremation with water (really a highly alkaline solution), the body tissue is dissolved to leave just the bones, which are then crushed to create ‘ashes’ that can be given to a loved one. Whilst it may sound a bit dystopian, it is actually a much cleaner option than cremation or burial, and marketing it as such is how crematoriums have persuaded some to choose it. Calling this ‘available’ may yet be a bit presumptive, as there is currently only one site in the UK that offers this service. However, with the practise now legalised in 14 US states and 3 provinces in Canada it could very well be the future of green burial.
Burial at sea
Although only a dozen or so people choose this option in the UK every year, perhaps because of its obscure nature or the fact that there are only three available burial sites in UK waters, burial at sea is something open to anyone regardless of your nautical connection. However, if the trend towards more eco-friendly burials continues this may become an increasingly popular option, as the strict regulations surrounding it and minimal waste make its environmental impact very low.
Donate your body
While organ donations are fairly well-known, an alternative charitable option could be to donate your whole body for educational purposes. The body will normally be studied by medical students to show them the anatomical structure of the body, although a donated corpse may also be used to train surgeons. It may also be the case that once a body has been used to its full extent, cremation may follow anyway, but this may offer some benefit before then.
Realistically many will find these options a bit suspicious, and may choose cremation as a more familiar option. But there are now a range of services available on how you can handle your loved one’s ashes that might better suit their memory. For the avid music fans you can now incorporate ashes into a vinyl record, which either plays their favourite music or has a recording of their voice. If this sounds a bit scary, perhaps a more elegant reminder of their life could be to have their ashes turned into a diamond or beautiful glass sculpture, which can then be placed into a variety of pieces of jewellery. A quick internet search will also reveal choices ranging from fireworks to having a tree grow from the urn when planted. All of these offer a more individual way to be remembered.
Whatever you want to happen to yourself or someone you know the most important thing is to make sure you’ve planned for it.