Among the most compelling reasons to choose cremation over casket burial are the many environmental advantages:
- A smaller footprint
- Fewer resources consumed for the manufacture of caskets and vaults
- No groundwater contamination as embalming fluids seep into the soil
Today, the question of what to do with the cremains of your loved ones has an even more environmentally sound answer, as biodegradable urns become more easily available to the general population.
But with the increase in environmentally friendly cremation options, comes the need for increased consumer education. What does biodegradable really mean? Are all biodegradable options environmentally sound? Is it more expensive to choose environmentally friendly options?
Biodegradation is the breakdown of organic matter by the physiological environment. All organic matter eventually biodegrades. What people usually mean when they use the term is that it biodegrades into environmentally benign elements. When a traditionally buried human body degrades—in addition to the environmentally benign components—embalming fluid, which contains formaldehyde, can be released into the topsoil and ground water, and can potentially contaminate drinking water. Cremation prevents this by obviating the need for embalming.
The physical footprint of traditional caskets and vaults are also an environmental concern, especially in small states and countries such as Japan, where space is at a premium. The small volume consumed by a biodegradable urn favors cremation as the environmentally friendlier option here as well. Many cremation urns can be stored within the same amount of area consumed by a traditional casket and vault. Besides the potentially small footprint at the cemetery, you don’t necessarily have to bury the urn, as many attractive and elegant options are available which can be chosen or even custom ordered to suit any decor.
Additionally, because an urn is smaller than a casket, fewer resources are consumed in the fabrication of the urn. Biodegradable urns can actually be said to replace resources in fact, because a truly biodegradable product will compost back into the soil. Some urns are now available with embedded seeds, so you will actually be fulfilling several environmental goals at once: consuming fewer natural resources, creating healthy compost, and replenishing our biomass in the form of new plants.
The final reason one might choose a biodegradable urn when deciding what to do with the cremains of your loved one or pet, is price. Many of the materials used in the creation of standard urns, such as precious metals, rare stones, and rich woods can be expensive. By contrast, because the goal of a biodegradable urn is to break down, the materials tend to be less pricey, lowering the overall cost of the urn. In addition to wood, biodegradable urns can be made of paper, sand or rock salt (which will float briefly, allowing time for a ceremony if there is to be a scattering of ashes at sea).
The increasing popularity of biodegradable options in cremation is a part of the larger trend toward greening the funeral industry overall, as more consumers elect not to have the final act of their lives on earth be one of pollution. By choosing a biodegradable urn, you are making a final statement of purpose in protecting our natural environment, and helping to push the funeral industry in this more responsible direction.