The average 24-year-old probably doesn’t think too much about what will happen with his or her corpse. If you have read much more of my blog, you might gather, that I’m not an average gal, and yes I have thought about how I’d like to be disposed of. As I do my best to lead a fairly low-impact life (on the environment that is), why wouldn’t I consider the ultimate footprint that my body will leave behind?
When faced with mortality, few people probably think about burial practices or the items involved. Of course, it’s difficult enough to cope with loss, and settling someone’s personal affairs, without having to think about much else. But did you know how many toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde, are added to corpses, and how many harmful chemicals are in the materials that comprise caskets? Where do you think those chemicals end up? They are not safely concealed forever. They actually seep out and enter the soil and when mixed with rain, enter the water system.
Still don’t believe the dangers involved? Maybe the effects on the professionals behind this business will change your mind: “Numerous studies have shown that embalmers and funeral directors exhibit a higher incidence of leukemia and cancers of the brain and colon, among other ailments.” Makes sense doesn’t it?
This standard practice is just another way in which modern culture has failed to care for it’s surroundings. Even in death people are polluting the Earth (though ignorantly, not purposely (I should hope!)). The damage that ensues from countless burials, not to mention the astronomical cost of these procedures, are totally unnecessary, but as with any other big business, the alternatives are not commonly discussed. Therefore I feel obliged to shared what I have learned.
“A ten-acre swatch of cemetery ground will contain enough coffin wood to construct more than 40 homes, nearly a thousand tons of casket steel and another twenty thousand tons of concrete for vaults. Across North America enough metal is diverted into coffin and vault production each year to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and enough concrete is used to build a two-lane highway from Toronto to Montreal… and back again.“
There are designated forest zones where people can be laid to rest in ultimate minimalstic fashion, free of chemicals. Simple biodegradable cases are used, made of materials that can range from wood, to bamboo, seagrass and recycled paper among other things (such as the EcoPod and it’s sibling the Acorn Urn for cremation). A major idea behind a natural burial is minimal impact not only below ground, but above, on the natural landscape. Therefore, natural markers, such as plants are used in lieu of stones. Of course, records are maintained about the locations of corpses in these areas. Lands used for such purposed are protected legally and safe from development.
I’ll leave you with this thought: Just because something has been done a certain way for years and years, generations upon generations, does not mean it is the best way or the right way. Even when it comes to sensitive issues such as burial. As a society we should embrace the knowledge that surfaces in hindsight, and employ it as we move ahead. Call me crazy, but if there is enough established data to prove that classic burials are hazardous, we need to practice better methods.
For more information: The Centre for Natural Burial.