Eco funerals increasing in popularity

| 1st October 2013

Environmentally friendly coffins currently available include wicker, wool, hyacinth leaf and cardboard.


Many of us are living greener lifestyles, but what about the imprint we leave when we die? Traditional burial and cremation practices can create a sizeable carbon footprint. Clare Stevens explores the options for those seeking to make their goodbye a green one.......
There are many options for those who want to make sure that when they go, they go green

A coffin made of straw, a water-dissolvable urn and immersal of a body in alkaline solution are all among recent innovations in an industry adapting fast to growing demand from those opting to go out in a way that doesn't cost the Earth.

More than half a million people pass away each year in the UK, where eco funerals currently account for five to seven per cent of the market. That figure is growing as more people seek to define their legacy and as the funeral industry embraces greener alternatives for its clients.

Now funeral directors are sourcing environmentally friendly options for almost every aspect of the process from coffins, veneers, transport, urns, memorials and flowers right down to the materials the deceased is dressed in and even the undertakers' uniforms.

Brian Hill, Regional Manager of Midlands Co-operative Funeralcare says: "Factors driving change include legislation, people being more aware of options and diminishing space in traditional burial grounds.

"More people are looking for alternatives when arranging a funeral and don't feel as uncomfortable about asking for them. What used to be a taboo subject is now far more open, which is helping the industry to move forward.

"Choosing green can often reflect in the price but with increasing demand and availability these products are becoming more competitive."

Green burials, generally understood to mean ones where the deceased is not embalmed and is buried using renewable and biodegradable materials, are on the increase. There are now more than 270 natural burial sites in the UK with new sites opening each year, some are local authority run, others privately owned.

Angie Wright, of Seaford, East Sussex, chose eco-funerals for both her parents, who died six years apart. They are buried next to each other in a green burial site north of Nottingham.

"I was attracted by the idea of a simple, green funeral. We had a small, private ceremony just for family members and I read a poem. It was very peaceful and calm," says Angie.

There are many options for those who want to make sure that when they go, they go green

"I liked the idea of it being in the open air and of them going back to the ground and being in the countryside surrounded by trees with wild flowers growing over the spot."

Nothing marks the actual burial plot but Angie planted memorial trees elsewhere on the site. She says she wants an eco-funeral for herself when the time comes.

Cremations, too, are getting greener, as filtering has greatly reduced emissions from the cremator and manufacturors make more eco-friendly caskets.

Environmentally friendly coffins currently available include wicker, wool, hyacinth leaf and cardboard, although crematoria have reported problems with some types of products producing potentially toxic gases, excessive ash or residue which may damage the cremator, or create risk to operators as they place the coffin into the cremator.

The search for an eco-friendly coffin for his father's funeral led Derbyshire businessman Laurie Smith and his business partner Dale Bywater to develop their own range of coffins made of straw.

"When my father passed away from cancer I tried to source an environmentally friendly coffin which had a traditional look and feel," says Laurie.

"Although we did find the sort of thing we were looking for the cost was prohibitive at up to a thousand pounds for a coffin. So we set out to create a green, traditionally shaped coffin that doesn't break the bank."

Laurie and Dale set up their company EcoRest to offer environmentally-friendly coffins which are made of 97 per cent compressed straw (an agricultural waste product) bound together with non toxic resin. They claim their coffins, which come in a range of veneers including banana-leaf, are greener than others because no trees are destroyed in their production, and although the coffins are eco, they have a traditional look and feel.

Those opting for an ‘eco exit' may also want to consider all the associated paraphernalia as well as the coffin itself. Urns now come in a range of biodegradable materials from papier-mâché to compressed sand. You can even get a dissolvable aqueous urn.

Green transportation of the coffin remains a tricky issue although horse-drawn carriages are making a comeback and hybrid hearses are now an option some funeral homes offer. Flowers too are a consideration as many are still imported from Europe.

Clothing for the deceased to wear in the coffin now comes in greener options including organic cotton, calico and jute. Midlands Co-operative Funeralcare is even issuing colleagues with an eco-undertakers' uniform with jackets made of 100% natural, renewable and sustainable materials, linings from recycled PET plastic bottles and buttons carved from corozo nuts.

And there are moves afoot to make the process of arranging funerals greener as the industry and local authorities look at replacing paper-based systems with electronic forms.

While currently in England and Wales the only legal way of disposing of a body is burial or cremation, new ‘green' processes are being pioneered elsewhere. Resomation, which uses alkaline hydrolysis to break down the body leaving just a powder, is already used in the US and Co-operative Funeralcare is seeking to make it available in the UK.

And a process called promession, developed in Sweden and also not yet legal in the UK, effectively freeze-dries the remains using liquid nitrogen to make them crumble. The liquid nitrogen evaporates into the atmosphere with nitrogen making up 80% of the air we breathe.

EcoRest Managing Director Dale Bywater says: "With this ever increasing array of options now on the table, it's clear this once very traditional industry is diversifying fast. There has never been a better time for those who want to make sure that when they go, they go green."




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