Introduction Increasing public awareness on eco-friendly burials would benefit the world as a whole by preserving nature. An environmentally friendly burial system should be implemented in North America in order to offer a sustainable alternative to traditional burials. In the article “'Til Death Do We Pollute, and Beyond” the authors argue that the best way to ensure human burials are not hazardous to the environment is to “establishment of federal guidelines” that ban the practice of situating cemeteries on sites where there is a risk of contaminating the surrounding area (Guttman, Miller, & Watson, 2013, p. 3). Many environmentally conscious organizations have brought up the topic of eco-friendly burial. The discussion addresses issues such as location and practice. Basically there needs to be a place to put dead bodies and that space is subject to a myriad of emotional decisions made by loved ones and a society that holds many beliefs surrounding the appropriate disposition of human remains. As Kelly points out, decisions about human remains have become “institutionalized in the forms of mortuary science, cemetery regulations, medicine, the market that drives them, and local, state and federal laws” (Kelly, 2012, p. 48). In this way, the loved ones have fewer and fewer choices about the best way to arrange the deceased’s funeral and burial. The expense of traditional funeral and burial can be financially devastating to survivors. The cost of eco-friendly burials is far less than that of traditional mortuary arranged burials and offers the mortuary service far less profit. For example, the average funeral expense for a burial in Canada ranges from “$5000-10 000” Canadian dollars and the cost of cremation there is between $2500 and $5000 (Northcott & Wilson 2008). In the United States, the same funeral costs between $6000 and $10,000, with the price rising every year (Smith 2007). Opting for eco-friendly funeral is a good financial option for families. An eco-friendly burial and funeral offers survivors the option of as much or as little ceremony as they wish while allowing the deceased the advantages of dignity and purity. The process of an eco-friendly funeral and burial does not include outmoded methods of preparation such as embalming. The eco-friendly equivalent of embalming, when and if it is required, is accomplished with non-toxic chemicals. Additionally, eco-friendly coffins are produced with natural, raw wood or materials that biodegrade. Tombstones are not manufactured with expensive and non-renewable resources such as marble, but instead are created and designed by sandblasting the names, dates, and other pertinent information into cobblestones and sandstone. All of these changes usually make the cost eco-friendly burials much more affordable.
The price of green burial is often lower than typical burials, sometimes by hundreds or thousands of dollars, McGuinness said, because there is no embalming and the casket — if there is one — is simple. Green burial also forgoes the concrete burial vaults into which caskets are placed (Markoe, 2014).
Additionally, there are no concrete vaults, no cement slabs, and non-sustainable environmental obstructions in eco-friendly burials. A United States manufacturing company, LifeGem, offers a unique way of disposing of loved ones. The process is accomplished in part via resomation. However elaborate or simple the funeral may be everything about it can be the same as a traditional funeral. The only difference comes at the moment the container would normally disappear into the ground. Instead, the ashes are treated with a water/alkali based substitute to traditional burial and cremation agents. This not only is good for the environment it is also less caustic to the body. Afterwards the remains are transformed into a diamond gemstone. In the United States, “Florida, Maine and Oregon have approved the technique for use in the disposal of human remains” by resomation (Reade, 2012, p. 39). The process is expensive, costing approximately $400,000 USD. Conventional funerals are detrimental to the land, water, air and the health of the living however, the Environmental Protection Agency has outlawed only arsenic as an embalming agent. So “air pollution from cremations and discharge of embalming fluids from funeral homes into septic and sewage systems” continues unabated (Stowe, Schmidt, & Green, 2001, p. 1817). As a result, hazardous substances such as “formaldehyde and gluteraldehyde” still are being used and threaten to contaminate the groundwater as they leech from gravesites (Stowe, Schmidt, & Green, 2001, p. 1817). The use of eco-friendly burial processes would solve this problem and there would be a concurrent reduction in environmental pollution. In an article titled, “Toxic burials: The final insult” the authors invoke Aldo Leopold’s legacy dialogue about land ethics and issues of ecosystem management and land health to support their argument in favor of eco-friendly burial systems. Contending that natural resources should be used in such a way as to maximize the processes that already exist in nature, the authors argue against traditional forms of burial and cremation as they are practiced in North America. Advocates of green burials complain that when eco-friendly standards are compared to traditional processes the latter are revealed to be harmful to the environment and therefore "those toxic burial practices are wrong” (Stowe, Schmidt, & Green, 2001, p. 1818). According to these author the same applies to most cremation practices because they cause air pollution.
Mercury is an element with large sources in cremation and detrimental health effects. Mercury is highly volatile and is emitted into the atmosphere naturally and by anthropogenic sources. It can enter water bodies through the atmosphere and from deposits in the surrounding basin with some of the aquatic inorganic mercury being converted into organic mercury which is toxic and bioaccumulates (Stowe, Schmidt, & Green, 2001, p. 1818).
Many feel strongly that Mother Nature intended that human bodies be reunited with the earth. Accordingly, all organisms that have lived and have died should naturally be returned to the soil so that they can be recycled into new life. The idea that the constant microbial activity in the soil breaks down human remains into organic matter is a common refrain supplied by proponents of eco-friendly burial and cremation services. While those who support legislation in favor of eco-friendly processes being adopted by the funeral industry are growing in number the reality of modern legislation is against the dead going Green. The legislation coming from the Environmental Protection Agency concerns itself with burials at sea more often than not. According to federal regulations 40 CFR 229.1 from the 1972 Marine Protection Act the burial of human at sea is only allowed under a strict set of circumstances. These regulations apply to cremated and non-created remains. The Clean Water Act also lists a variety of rules and regulations that must be observed in order to accomplish a sea burial legally. In the case of inland water burials, a permit is required (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). There is widespread resistance to eco-friendly burials by the some of the institutionalized practitioners of traditional burial and cremation methods. For example, eco-friendly burials otherwise known as green burials in that region are illegal in some parts of Georgia. Local executives and others lobbied the government there and passed legislation against green burials. This makes it illegal for persons wanting to build “environmentally friendly cemeteries” in the area (Funeral Consumers Alliance, 2010). The legislation was passed after a campaign that portrayed green burials as practices whereby bodies are left almost unattended and the decomposing body leaks hazardous waste and diseases into the groundwater. The thought of unattended decaying and decomposing bodies horrified local residents and the promoters of the “most expensive and resource-intense burials” are the only type allowed under the ruling (Funeral Consumers Alliance, 2010). Conclusion
If North Americans do not support the budding practice of eco-friendly funerals for humans they may find themselves with no alternative to toxic and expensive burial arrangements. Their option to contribute to a less toxic world will be gone. The most popular forms of funerals in today’s society are outmoded, costly, and not environmentally friendly. The harm caused by these traditional burials to the environment and the cost attached to them does not make for sustainability. As noted, advocates of eco-friendly burials cite a variety of issues to support the abandonment of toxic body preparation and burial toward a more environmentally sustainable burial system. According to Scientific American, “approximately 30 million board feet (9.1 million meters) of wood” are needed annual to build coffins (Scientific American, 2008). This is not usually easily renewable word; it is more likely to be mahogany. Additionally large amounts of steel, concrete and other construction materials are needed to facilitate the sites where people are buried. Embalming fluids have been criticized extensively because they leak into the groundwater and soil. While cremations are not as hard on the environment as burials, they still use up a lot of energy. In order to burn a human body it the unit must reach a temperature of 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit. Besides the energy consumption, cremation processes release “toxins, including hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids, dioxin, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide” (Scientific American, 2008). The consequences of disposing of human remains are needlessly complicated and noxious manner has alerted both environmental organizations and consumer groups to the advantages of green burials. The idea that a human body must have all of its natural fluids drained and then replaced with chemicals in order to “disinfect and preserve the tissues” has been proven to be based on incorrect scientific assumptions (Kelly, 2012, p. 48). The use of embalming chemicals such as formaldehyde has been proven toxic to surrounding land and water. While arsenic is no longer used in human burials, there are at least forty-two other chemicals that are approved by the federal government, many of which may be hazardous to the health of live humans (Kelly, 2012). The best solution is to create more public awareness about the many advantages of eco-friendly funeral and burial systems.
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