Green cremation is an idea that is catching on across the globe among people who are searching for memorial alternatives. And it is especially a growing trend in the United States where cremation itself is growing so quickly that experts believe it will soon, after decades of being the underdog, surpass burial as the most popular method of disposal of a body. Since many people are prone to think of cremation, in and of itself, as being a very “green” practice (which it certainly is), the following is intended to help you learn the difference between traditional cremation and green cremation.
Traditional cremation, as we said, is already a environmentally friendly option, in which a body is heated to temperatures approaching 1500 degrees Fahrenheit and eventually reduced to ashes which can be buried, stored in an urn or scattered anywhere on Earth. (In some not-so-out-of-this-world fiction ashes have been delivered into outer space in a variety of ways. One can feel confident that such options will eventually happen also in the non-fictional world.) This is considered environmentally friendly because reducing a body to ashes does, in effect, nature’s work for her – only much faster. (A body can take decades – or even centuries in some regions where the climate is frigid – to decompose naturally into ashes.) And this reduces the need to devote significant resources to burial space and to liter the Earth with burial containers, many of which will not decompose themselves for centuries.
Green cremation, of course, involves the same basic process – called cremation. But the difference between green cremation and traditional cremation is that green cremation focuses on the disposal of the ashes. Whereas traditional cremation allows for ashes to be stored or buried in non-biodegradable containers made from brass, bronze, fiberglass, stone, or any type of man-made metal, green cremation would never include such an option. Green cremation applies the concept of being environmentally friendly to the disposition of the ashes themselves. A green cremation will likely involve the use of one of the many beautiful styles of biodegradable cremation urns that are available from today’s amazingly diverse and creative memorial industry. A biodegradable urn makes for a truly green cremation because it is green in and of itself. Because it is designed to break down in the Earth’s elements in a relatively short period of time (usually ranging from a few minutes to a few days), a biodegradable urn makes for a cremation that is much more green than the a cremation that involves the use of a metal or stone urn that will not break down for decades or centuries. While these urns are considerably more environmentally friendly than metal caskets or other, much larger, containers, they still do lend themselves to littering the Earth’s surface for long periods of time, and that is an uncomfortable thought for many who try their best to live a green lifestyle.
Many green cremations involve a scattering ceremony of some sort, in which ashes are scattered across a place that was very special to the deceased. In fact, a large percentage of biodegradable urns are designed with this purpose in mind precisely. A very popular type of scattering ceremony is a sea burial in which a biodegradable cremation urn is place into a body of water and left to float gracefully for a short while, while ceremony attendees (usually aboard) a boat watch and reflect. The urn is specially formulated from material that eventually becomes saturated in the water and drifts slowly to the bottom of the sea where it breaks apart naturally in a few days allowing the ashes to very gracefully disperse them throughout the sea. This same general process plays out also in green cremations that are conducted on land. In these green cremations, the biodegradable cremation urn is simply buried in a special spot (sometimes in a cemetery, but that is not necessarily a requirement) and ceremony attendees can leave the event feeling comfortable that the urn will quickly break down, and the ashes will be allowed to mix themselves naturally with the rest of the soil in this special place.
It is important to note that this discussion of green cremations is not exhaustive, nor is there any official definition of what exactly a green cremation entails. Some green cremations can even involve the use of non-biodegradable urns, in fact. If scattering is the ultimate goal of a cremation, the ashes can most certainly be scattered from an urn made from metal (or stone or anything else that’s non-biodegradable), and the cremation could still be considered a green cremation from many people’s perspective. Though some would argue, of course, that even if the ashes are not ultimately disposed of in a biodegradable container, the use of anything non-biodegradable – which will have to later be dealt with by the Earth’s environment – is not sufficiently green enough to constitute a green cremation. But such nuances are best left for debaters and philosophers to discuss endlessly, of course. The definition of a green cremation is whatever the deceased and the bereaved would have it be. When anything as personal as the disposal of a body is the topic, it’s best that philosophical issues be set aside in favor of emotional considerations such as healthy grieving and respectful mourning.