Death is something we are taught not to talk about in Western culture, but unfortunately, we all die sometime. Every person who has ever existed, and every person who will exist in the future will one day die. And the reality is, that’s a lot of bodies. The conventional way we bury won’t work with an increasing population. There isn’t enough space to bury everyone, since many burials are surrounded in concrete, so the bodies never decay into the earth. But in a world of modern innovation, we have a lot of out of the box options for what to do with the dead.
Traditional burial involves a lot of effort, and a lot of money (on average around $10,000). So what do you get with this money, and what is its effect on the earth. The things that you have to pay for include: casket, embalming, concrete burial vaults, services, gravestones, etc. It’s a lot of money, and a lot of impact on the environment. That concrete won’t decompose, and neither will the laquered, steel lined casket. Even if they do decompose, the embalming fluid is filled with carcinogens that will go into the earth, which is obviously not ideal.
There are more environmentally friendly and cheaper ways to bury people, with green cemeteries becoming easier and easier to find. Green cemeteries work to use sustainable burial practices by only burying unembalmed bodies and burying people in cloth or plain pine boxes, both of which will decompose and helps bodies themselves to decompose much faster than they would with traditional burial. On their website, the Green Burial Council states that bodies only be buried in “plant-derived, recycled plant-derived, natural, animal, or unfired earthen materials, including shell, liner, and adornments.” They also provide resources for finding these resources.
But we all know that there is a lot more you can do with your dead body other than bury it in the ground, the most popular option being cremation. Cremation has become an increasing popular option for a number of reasons, especially since 1963, when the Catholic Church lifted its ban on cremation (though ashes are still supposed to be buried, not scattered or stored on a mantle). In recent years, cremation has been more popular than burial in the United States. The things you can do with ashes are extensive, to say the least. You can have the ashes made into things like diamonds or vinyl records, become a tree, or become part of a coral reef. You can even have your ashes launched into space.
After all, cremation isn’t exactly environmentally friendly, since a great deal of heat and energy are required to turn a body to ash, and burning anything generates carbon dioxide emissions into the air. Fortunately for us, scientists are discovering more environmentally friendly methods of burial, in the form of wet cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis. It is not legal in every state yet, but hopefully it will be soon, especially with cremation rising so much in popularity.
Obviously, these are only a few of the factors that influence how we choose to be remembered. Our “life after death” is influenced by our religion, the needs of our families, and much more. Death is unavoidable, but burial is more for those we leave behind than for ourselves.
Memento mori, friends.
What would you like to happen to your body after you die?