The Environmental Impact of Cremation: Is it Really Bad?

Cremation is the process of reducing a human body to bone fragments and ashes through intense heat. This is done by placing an individual’s body in a chamber that exposes it to extreme temperatures over the course of several hours. After this process, only approximately 3-5 pounds of cremated remains remain and can be kept or scattered in a variety of ways.

On the positive side, cremation requires significantly fewer resources than a traditional burial and can be much faster. On the other hand, cremation has some environmental drawbacks as well, and they are not small ones either.

To truly get a sense of whether or not cremation is right for the environment, let’s take a look at the pros and cons and get a better understanding. We will also explore some other eco-friendly alternatives that may be better suited to your needs.

Positive Environmental Impacts of Cremation

Tossing ashes into a lake.

The positive effects that cremation has on the environment are numerous, which is a big reason why cremation becoming more encouraged by the funeral industry instead of other burial methods.

Positive Greenhouse Gas Emissions Compared to Traditional Burial

When compared to a traditional burial, cremation has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is because a typical casket-burial requires energy from the funeral home for embalming fluids and casketing, as well as fuel for transportation of the body.

Cremation does not require these processes and can be much faster. Additionally, the energy output of cremation is generally lower than traditional burials when taking a variety of factors into account.

Alternative Solutions that can Reduce Environmental Damage from Cremation

In addition to the positive environmental footprint that cremation can have, there are also several alternative solutions and methods that can further reduce the damage it may cause. For example, some crematoriums are now turning to “green” or renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power which reduces their carbon footprint.

Additionally, many funeral services offer biodegradable urns and ash disposal options that are more eco-friendly than traditional methods. These solutions can help ensure that cremation remains a viable option for those who have environmental concerns and desire a smaller footprint.

The Biodegradable Urn and Natural Burials

Biodegradable urns and natural burials are becoming increasingly popular as people look for more sustainable burial methods. Biodegradable urns allow the ashes to be returned to nature in a safe and respectful manner, while natural burials typically involve burying the body at a shallow depth without embalming or casketing.

Both practices are designed to reduce the environmental impact of a burial and provide an eco-friendly alternative to traditional cremation or burial.

The Sea Reef Release Initiative

In addition to biodegradable urns and natural burials, there is now an initiative called the “Sea Reef Release” that allows for a unique way of scattering cremated remains. It works by placing a person’s ashes inside an environmentally-friendly artificial reef ball which is then placed into the ocean. This way, the individual’s ashes can become a new part of the ocean ecosystem and help support marine life.

The Sea Reef Release is another way to reduce the environmental impact of cremation while still providing a meaningful and respectful final resting place for those who wish to be scattered in this manner.

Negative Environmental Impacts of Cremation

While cremation may be marketed as the definitive eco-friendly way to honor a loved one who has passed, there are still environmental issues that are caused by cremation and need to be addressed.

Is Cremation Bad for the Environment?

The most significant environmental issue with cremation is the fact that it produces toxic pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury. These pollutants can be harmful to both humans and the environment.

Additionally, traditional crematoriums use natural gas or propane to fuel their furnaces, which leads to further greenhouse gas emissions.

So while cremation has it’s environmental benefits, it’s also rather bad for the environment if the negatives are not properly addressed. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate and limit these emissions (more on that later).

Does Cremation Leave a Carbon Footprint?

The answer is yes.

Cremation does leave a carbon footprint and the size of that footprint depends on the type of fuel used in the crematory’s furnace, as well as how efficiently the equipment operates. Studies found that they emit an average of 540 kg of carbon dioxide per cremation.

While there is no way to completely eliminate the environmental impact of cremation, there are steps that can be taken to reduce emissions caused by the process and make cremation a more eco-friendly option.

Does Cremation Contribute to Climate Change?

Given the amount of pollutants emitted during cremation, it is reasonable to assume that it can contribute to climate change.

However, given the fact that most of these pollutants are also produced by other means (such as burning fossil fuels for transportation), it is difficult to determine exactly how much of an impact cremation has on climate change.

Nevertheless, the emissions produced by cremation should not be overlooked and steps should still be taken to reduce them in order to lessen its environmental impact.

Limiting Emissions Caused by Cremation

There are several ways that crematories can limit the emissions created from cremation.

The most important is to ensure that their equipment is up-to-date and utilizing the best available combustion technology. This can significantly reduce the amount of pollutants that are emitted when a body is cremated.

Additionally, many modern crematories employ filters which act as a barrier between the body and the atmosphere, preventing pollutants from entering the air.

Finally, some modern crematories have adopted natural gas burning systems which produce much lower levels of hazardous substances than other methods, such as oil or coal.

This type of system has been found to be more efficient in terms of energy usage while also drastically reducing emissions.

Eco-Friendly Solutions to Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions

There are several eco-friendly solutions which can be employed to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced by cremation. Let’s examine some of the more popular options.

Is it Better for the Environment to be Cremated or Buried?

Burial site with tombstones.

This is a difficult question to answer, as there are pros and cons to both options.

For example, when it comes to cremation, while emissions produced by the process can be reduced with better equipment or filters, this will still come at an additional cost to those who choose this option. A conventional burial, on the other hand, requires very little energy and does not produce toxic emissions from the burial process alone.

On the other hand, traditional burial options take up a lot of space and can be quite costly in comparison to cremation. Additionally, there are added environmental impacts from transport (emissions) and casket development (typically requires many more trees to be cut down).

In the end, it is important to weigh all of these factors when making a decision. There is no one-size-fits-all answer; ultimately, it comes down to individual preference. Regardless of which option you choose, there are ways for both burial and cremation to be made more environmentally friendly.

What is the Most Eco-Friendly Way to be Buried?

The most eco-friendly way to be buried is a green burial. Green burials involve using biodegradable materials (such as wicker caskets and shrouds) instead of traditional, non-biodegradable coffins.

Additionally, green burials do not involve the use of embalming chemicals or concrete burial vaults, both of which can leach toxic substances into the ground or water table. Green burials also typically do not require any heavy machinery for digging graves, reducing the amount of energy used in the burial process.

Finally, green burials are often done in natural burial grounds where native plants and trees are preserved and protected, making them even more eco-friendly.

By opting for green burials, individuals can have a smaller impact on the environment and help preserve natural landscapes for future generations.

What about Water Cremation?

Water cremation (also known as alkaline hydrolysis or aquamation) is a newer type of cremation that has been gaining traction in recent years. It involves placing the body in a pressurized chamber with a solution made up of water and lye, which breaks down the body at a molecular level.

In terms of environmental impact, water cremation is a much more eco-friendly alternative to traditional flame cremation. It uses less energy, produces fewer emissions (including pollutants such as carbon dioxide and mercury), and requires no use of fossil fuels.

Water cremation is still relatively new, so there are some states that do not allow it yet. However, this is likely to change in the near future as more states recognize its potential environmental benefits. Overall, water cremation is an excellent option for those looking for a more eco-friendly way to be cremat

Ultimately, whether you choose burial or cremation, there are eco-friendly options available that can help reduce your environmental impact. By making informed decisions and doing your research, you can help ensure that your burial and cremation are as respectful of the environment as possible.

Closing Remarks

Cremation is becoming an increasingly popular option for many people, but it is important to be mindful of its impact. Fortunately, there are several eco-friendly solutions which can help reduce emissions produced by the cremation process.

In addition to more traditional funeral options such as green burials, water cremation is a newer option which promises to reduce emissions and energy consumption according to the cremation industry.

Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide what the best option for them is. By taking into account factors such as cost, personal preference, and eco-impact, you can make an informed decision that is right for you.

Thank you for reading! I hope that you learned something new. As always, take care of yourself, your loved ones, and the environment.