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  • Writer's pictureAnne-Marie Soulsby

Environmentally Considerate Funerals

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

One way to be truly and finally eco-friendly is to die. However, the funeral process can be damaging to the environment. There are ways to have funerals that are kinder to the planet. Here are some suggestions:

Cremation, Field Burial or Nature Burial?

There are several options when considering a funeral which have different environmental impacts. Cremation is or is becoming the most popular choice in many countries but can release pollutants into the atmosphere, including mercury. Field burials take up a lot of space and require maintenance. Woodland burials are natural cemeteries which look like meadows or woods and are managed ecologically. In terms of carbon footprint, cremation uses the least carbon dioxide when compared to both a field and woodland burial. One very eco alternative is to have a burial at sea, using only sail power.

Alkaline Hydrolysis

Also known as resomation or aquamation, this is an alternate process to cremation or burial using lye and heat. Using potassium hydroxide, pressure and a low heat the body is broken down into a liquid and ash. The liquid can be disposed of down the drain as it is a mix of amino acids, peptides, salts and sugars whilst the ash is returned to the relatives. It uses 75% less energy than cremation and less carbon dioxide and pollutants are released into the atmosphere.

Land allocation

Many countries are experiencing a shortage of space for burials, especially in crowded cities and on islands. As a result different methods are being used to solve the problem including reusing graves, creating multi-storey burial tunnels, virtual graves and banning burials. The most environmentally friendly option is to scatter the ashes instead of burying a body or an urn.


Another way to be eco-friendly is to ask mourners to travel to the venues by eco-friendly transport. This could be walking, cycling, public transport, sailing, electric vehicle, or car-sharing. Additionally, request any future visits to the final resting place considers the environmental impact of travelling there and uses a sustainable option.


Having a permanent memorial is a traditional marking of someone’s final resting place. However using headstones such as marble, slate, granite or limestone is not great for the environment. Quarrying and mining these raw materials is very energy hungry, creates a lot of waste, pollutes water and the air. Additionally there is the carbon footprint of the transportation from the quarry to the memorial site and the chemicals used in cleaning the stone. Consider another material such as wood or a material made from plant composite. Alternatively plant a tree, hang up a bird box, hedgehog home or a bat roosting box as a way to be involved in conservation after death.


Unfortunately the embalming process is not great for the environment either. It uses several chemicals which can leak into the ground and subsequently into waterways or released into the atmosphere during cremation. The best choice is not embalming at all, so that the air pollution is reduced and the body can decay naturally, restoring the soil instead.


Coffins are also another consideration for eco friendly internment. Every year millions of acres of wood is felled, plus tonnes of metal and concrete are utilised to make sarcophaguses and tombs. Modern synthetic caskets do not biodegrade very quickly in the ground and also release pollutants when they are burnt. Choosing a wooden coffin can also be bad, especially if it is virgin rainforest timber or MDF. Often the wood has been chemically treated, toxic glue, veneer and paints have been used and plastic or metal handles have been attached. Plus the carbon footprint of the transport from factory to the funeral directors can be high. Try opting for recycled cardboard, locally sourced wood such as willow or bamboo or even a shroud from recycled material.


The choice of urn can also be environmentally friendly. Steer away from glass, ceramics and metals and instead choose a better option. This could include unfired clay, bamboo, wicker and recycled paper which biodegrade.