Article by Maria Goffin & Amanda Mosmiller | Photography by John Merkel | Owl Staff

A traditional burial isn’t the only way to lay a loved one to rest. | Photo by Audrey Merkel

More than half of Americans are interested in “green” burials, according to a survey by the National Funeral Directors Association. After a life spent doing one’s best to protect the environment, it just doesn’t seem fitting to leave behind a legacy of formaldehyde, concrete, and treated wood or metal – key features of a typical burial.

Common green burial options involve materials that will degrade quickly and harmlessly. Some have chosen to be wrapped in natural fabrics and placed directly into their burial plots. Others use caskets made from wicker, bamboo, or other biodegradable materials.

Natural burials don’t just benefit the environment; they can keep wallets greener, too. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, a traditional funeral-and burial – costs over $7000 on average. Skipping out on a traditional burial can make the process both responsible and inexpensive.

However, many of the more unorthodox ways to be laid to rest involve cremation, rather than conventional interment.

A range of firms offer unconventional ways to “scatter” a loved one’s ashes. Heavens Above Fireworks in the United Kingdom uses pyrotechnics, offering ash-dispersing firework displays. Another one of their services, while less ecologically conscious, carries ashes even further.

In conjunction with a “space burial” company called Celestis, Heavens Above Fireworks has scheduled “Me­morial Space Flights,” during which human remains will be launched into space and even landed on the moon.

“According to the National Funeral Directors Association, a traditional funeral-and burial-costs over $7000 on average. Skipping out on a traditional burial can make the process both responsible and inexpensive.”

Cremation may overall impact the planet less severely than typical burials, but one can go one step further and directly benefit the environment with one’s remains. Eternal Reefs, a memorial service with a location in Ocean City, Maryland, allows the deceased person’s ashes to be incorporated into an artificial reef, serving as a habitat for aquatic wildlife while still allowing families to add a personal touch.

Becky Peterson, a spokesperson for Eternal Reefs, says “Families can be as involved as they want. They can actually put handprints, put mementos, trinkets … into the damp concrete, which many of them choose to do.”

An Italian project called Capsula Mundi offers another way to nurture the environment after death: a cremated loved one can be placed in an urn (or “pod”) and “planted,” along with a tree, on family property. As the urn and its contents degrade, they sustain and nourish the tree.

Although cremations generally cause less pollution than traditional burials, they still burn fossil fuels. Chemical cremation – also called resomation – opens up new possibilities for reducing one’s posthumous carbon footprint.

According to Bio Cremation, the resomation process “biochemically hydrolyzes the human body, leaving only bone fragments.” These fragments are then processed and returned to the family. Certain companies in the field, including Eternal Reefs, are now accepting resomated remains in addition to ashes.

One can exit with a flare, while still being conscientious about what’s left behind. Life is short, but a commitment to respecting and preserving the planet can endure long after death.

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