Sunday, February 17, 2008

Consumers to the very end

If you've ever watched Six Feet Under, you have a sense of what happens to the body prior to a conventional funeral and burial. If this is an indignity that you are willing to suffer, and a price tag that you are willing to bear, so be it.

But consider for a moment the environmental impact of the typical funerary send-off.

After the funeral service, the body is sealed inside a metal casket or lacquered wooden coffin lined with plush satin and adorned with gleaming brass accessories. This is then lowered into a concrete vault and buried. The reinforced concrete tomb is covered with a ton of dirt, and planted with non-native grass which is kept artificially green with pesticide and weed killer.

A ten-acre tract of cemetery ground hides enough coffin wood to construct more than 40 homes, and contains nearly a thousand tons of casket steel and another twenty thousand tons of concrete.

Formaldehyde, the primary ingredient in embalming fluids and a known carcinogen, is another concern. Nearly a million gallons of embalming fluid are buried every year in North America, some of which eventually leaches out and runs into surrounding soil and groundwater.

Above ground, the local cemetery looks peaceful and pastoral. But below the surface it serves, to all intents and purposes, as a landfill of hazardous wastes and non-biodegradable materials. An affront to nature, to be sure.

A modern natural burial, wherein the body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally and be recycled into new life, is an environmentally sustainable alternative to existing funeral practices. The body is prepared for burial without chemical preservatives and is buried in a simple shroud or biodegradable casket that might be made from locally harvested wood, wicker or even recycled paper.

A completed natural burial preserve is a green place with trees, grasses, and wildflowers, which in turn bring birds and other wildlife to the area. It is a living memorial and leaves a legacy of care for those of us who respect the earth and understand our connection to it.

What could be more organic than to become a part of nature? Death does, after all, complete the circle of life. I find it comforting to know that my body will someday enrich the soil and allow living things to flourish. Maybe a molecule of mine will end up in a berry eaten by a bird. More likely, I'll be in a nut eaten by a manic squirrel.



Klayton Elliot Kendall said...

Even when they're dead, people continue to be assholes. I wish we could still have funeral pyres and watch our loved-ones be consumed in flame, but I'll happily accept cremation as a safe alternative. Toss my ashes into the four winds. I don't want my skeletal remains dug up and examined one day.... Marie, you didn't mention why people go to such absurd lengths to preserve the bodies of the dead: religion -- the irrational belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Marie said...

Yes, dear Klayton. But the big fat funeral industry working in conjunction with the big fat government make it nearly impossible to choose anything besides direct cremation (no viewing of the body except in a cold drawer at the morgue) or the full-on disemboweling/embalming scam.

There are a few activists out there fighting for the right to have home funerals, which would allow the body to be viewed--important to many--and then buried naturally or cremated. However, taking possession of and transporting the body requires breaking through lots of red tape and is actually illegal in a number of states. So, as usual, it will be a battle between underfunded naturalists and big big big corporations and their best friend, Uncle Sam.

I'd say, Even when we're dead, the government continues its assault on our civil liberties.

Death may free the soul from earthly bonds; the body, not so much.

Bob said...

Great posting!!! How many people actually address death in this country? It is a sad part of our culture. Everyone knows it is going to happen, but few make their wishes known to loved ones.

If my family can not bear me being gone... they can cremate me, mix my my ashes into ceramic mix, place me in a kiln and turn me into a vase. My only request is do not turn me into an ash tray. I don't handle second hand smoke very well.