A wooden casket with on top gorgeous floral arrangements is being carried across the cemetery. Followed by a procession of mourning silent people the casket arrives at the grave where tombstone marks the final resting place of the deceased. We want to give our loved ones a funeral they deserve. However, such “traditional” Western burial is the worst ways to dispose of a body.
The impact of a funeral
Reports of Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) show that burial is the most stressful for the environment, followed by cremation. The least stressful is a technique called alkaline hydrolysis. With this technique the body is being dissolved under pressure in hot water with potassium oxide.
In the reports the impact on the environment is indicated among other things in shadow prices. These prices are the costs that have to be made to compensate the effects of the funeral techniques on the environment in euros.
The total environmental impact of the funeral techniques is between €2.59 for alkaline hydrolysis and €50.83 for a burial for an average deceased person. Cremation lies between those two, €48.47.
With burials, the biggest factor of impact is the space it takes to bury someone, costing 19.26 euros to compensate. The second biggest factor is particulate formation, 13.44 euros, followed by water supply depletion, 10.58 euros.
The biggest factor with cremation is particulate formation, costing 18.37 euros. Also cremation has a big effect on the water supply, its shadow price is 10.35 euros. Eutrophication, the enrichment of a water body with nutrients causing loss of biodiversity and depletion of oxygen, comes third with a shadow price of almost 7 euros.
The shadow price of just 2.59 euros for alkaline hydrolysis doesn’t mean the process isn’t stressful for the environment. It means that costs are compensated. Some of the effects categories have negative values. The water supply depletion costs for alkaline hydrolysis are 4.53 euros, but the costs for human toxicity are -2.15 euros. Together with the negative value for particulate formation, -2.07 euros, and the values of other effects categories, makes that alkaline hydrolysis has a net shadow price of 2.59 euros.
So what to do?
Keeping in mind that an average burial costs between €8,500 and €11,000, why don’t we all choose for the greenest and much cheaper version? The main reason could be the fact it is not legal in the Netherlands. The research done by TNO has been conducted on behalf of Yarden, a Dutch funeral organisation and insurer. The aim of the research is to provide information needed to change the law regarding funeral techniques in the Netherlands. This law states that one’s body may be buried, cremated or donated to science.
The two funeral techniques apart from burial, provide the great advantage of being able to recycle metals which otherwise would be lost in the ground. With alkaline hydrolysis this advantage is extended to the capability of recycling noble metals. This recycling results in a compensation of environmental effects.
For now, we can only hope that when our time has come the law permits us to do our final good deed for this world.