Traditional funerals are not very green in the least, aside from costing the big bucks. Between the long funeral precession, manicured lawns with lots of chemicals, and the amount of chemicals that go into the coffin-death is very ungreen. Each year, 22,500 cemeteries throughout the US bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid every year. Embalming fluids can include chemicals and additives like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, phenol, methanol, antibiotics, dyes, anti-edemic chemicals, and disinfectant chemicals. All these chemicals get absorbed by soil, and contaminates the ground water.
Yes, traditional funerals are hazards to the environment. The vault and casket that are placed in the ground for each person takes thousands of years to bio degrade. Once these materials begin breaking down, toxins and chemicals are released into the ground, more importantly the ground water.
This is an interesting question, which can draw some answers, but also beg addtional quesitons as well. First, one must consider how much the world population is growing – it is steadily reaching 7 billion (and is expected to grow even further beyond that). While this poses problems as far as natural resource management, it also contributes to the enormous amount of dead bodies that a population of this size is going to produce: people are being born and dying at a tremendous scale. Now, one must consider the sheer magnitude of corpses, and how that affects the environment. As far as human decomposition goes, there is bacteria, viruses, and organic (and inorganic) chemicals. Many of these inorganic chemicals are present in the corpse from the embalming process, but considering the fact that there are thousands of different chemicals that human beings are exposed to during their lifetimes, I beieve that those would be a contributing factor as well. The adverse affect these chemicals have on the environment – especially to groundwater – are still being studied. The World Health Organization published a particularly interesting report on this matter. I’ve also attached an interesting article about “green” burials.
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