You might have thought that the one good thing about being dead was that you weren’t ruining the planet any more.
Hah. How wrong can you be? Coffins bury copper, bronze and hardwoods where they’re no use to anybody. Embalming fluid includes formaldehyde and other hazardous chemicals. And burial in a cemetery takes watering and mowing – just think of all those chemicals on the lawns, not to mention the nasty two-stroke in the lawn mowers. Normal burial is definitely the worst option, planet-wise. Not to mention that cemeteries, running out of space, are having to contemplate the undignified prospect of vertical, or even doubledecker graves. suggests the ‘lift and deepen’ method as most publicly acceptable. (And no, I’m not going to elaborate here)
So you might think, get yourself a nice cremation. But hang on a minute. Remember bonfire night? All that By 2020, according to , 25% of all airborne mercury in this country will come from crematoria chimneys. This matters – mercury is toxic, accumulates in air and water, and can harm the brain, kidneys, nervous system and unborn children.
And it’s in every filling in your mouth. But that’s just the beginning. emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter, mercury, hydrogen fluoride (HF), hydrogen chloride (HCl), NMVOCs, and other heavy metals, in addition to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), plus 0.2% of the global emission of dioxins and furans. The government is on to this, but new emissions targets mean expensive refitting. And you know who’s going to end up paying for that.
But of course space burials are a bit like carbon offsetting; you’re just dumping your refuse on the poor Martians.
Read moreover, and you find it’s probably only about a spoonful of you that gets onto the rocket. And it doesn’t always work – the remaining spoonful of Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper came down in the New Mexico desert only hours after his glorious exit. How humiliating is that? Don’t even ask what they did to him when they found him.
The new idea is freeze-drying. Kind of a Heston Blumenthal take on death, though I’m sure the who came up with it wouldn’t appreciate the comparison. They dip the body in liquid nitrogen at -196C until it’s totally chill, and then vibrate it into powder.
A magnetic field then removes the traces of metal objects like fillings and artificial limbs from the remains. (Great for weight loss – 75 kilos alive, 25 kilos of pink powder dead!) The inventors are now trying to get the legal right to use it as compost, which might be one step too practical for some of us, but would presumably help the cash-strapped Church of Sweden, which has a 5% stake (sorry) in the process.
Meanwhile a Glasgow company has come up with a process called that does a similar thing, except you turn into liquid, not powder. Apparently it produces one-eighteenth of the carbon footprint of a cremation.
(And provides a bevvy for the wake. Why drink your dead friend’s health, when you could drink your dead friend?)
If that’s all a bit too much technology for you, how about a nice woodland funeral? Biodegradable bamboo or water hyacinth coffins, designer linen shrouds, no upkeep or maintenance, and a lovely place for your family to visit. The first was an innovative move by Carlisle City Council in May 1993. Twelve years later there are over 200 all round the UK, from Highlands of Scotland to West of Cornwall. is currently dead for lack of funding – which is a shame, but try or instead.
If you’re not to bothered about the setting, but you are worried that your loved ones won’t be arsed to make the trek to a bosky woodland, it is, amazingly, legal to be buried You don’t even need planning permission. Course, it might not work so well in a flat.
It started with two college students worried about the dying reefs off the Florida Keys and looking for something to make artificial reefs from that would be attractive to microorganisms. Their Reef Balls are all over the ocean – 400,000 of them so far. They just mix your cremated remains in with the concrete – but of course, you need to be cremated first, which kind of takes us back to where we started.
Better, and less expensive, just to live with the fishes. It’s possible – in theory – to be – but you need a licence and a doctor’s testimony that you’re free of fever of infection, which could be a bit of a problem, depending how you died.
But the ultimate in sustainable dying has to be recycling your body via organ donation and medical schools. You need to fill in a form while you’re still alive from the at your local medical school. Who knew? You’ll be glad to know that they’re legally obliged to treat you with respect, plus they’ll pay for the disposal of what’s left afterwards. Green, ethical – and free.
Of course, with luck by the time we peg out, most of us will be too worn out to be of much use. But anatomy students are a resilient bunch. And who cares about cellulite once they’re dead?