Monday, 24 January 2011

Sick Tories - Dying To Be Green

In recent years, "green", eco- or natural funeral options have become pleasingly more and more widespread, one welcome benefit from the loosening of regulations about the disposal of our earthly remains - there are many choices, such as woodland burials, eco-coffins and more. Rather than headstones, memorial trees are often planted over the burial site, nourished in time in a natural way, bringing new life from old.

Woodland burial site in Lancashire
Yet one insensitive, piss-taking, penny-pinching, cold-hearted Conservative Council has proposed this week possibly the worst and most tasteless case of deceitful greenwash in history. Redditch Tories have come up with the wheeze of using the heat released from a council crematorium to warm up the local swimming pool, with up to £14,000 p.a. to be saved in costs to local taxpayers.

Council leader Carole Gandy defended the plans, saying ,"It will save the authority money and, in the long-term, save energy which is what we're all being told we should do." (The Guardian)

More than a little understandably, local trade unions have described the plan as sick and one funeral director said he found the idea "ghoulish" - yes, indeed it is. But Mr Hull from the Federation of Burial & Cremation Authorities supports the plans as supposedly, "From an environmental point of view, it makes sense."

Does it really? Of course not. Aside from the ethics and taste of it, or the sheer psychological impact on the bereaved ("uncle's gone, but he's keeping the pool warm for you"), the FBCA are being ingenuous in suggesting cremation ever makes environmental sense. For cremation (now the favourite funereal form in the UK), bodies have to be incinerated at temperatures of up to 1,150 degrees centigrade, creating a massive carbon footprint. The industrial-scale effort expended by modern crematoria is something that simply can't ever be pollution-free.

Burial in graveyards might seem a better option, but modern coffins are no low-tech, low-resource beasts either. They often come in chemically-treated hardwoods, but even if faster-growing woods are used, the metal and other synthetic fittings involve significant processing as well as often being non-biodegradable. In addition, the embalming of bodies involves the use of toxic chemicals you wouldn't dream of allowing to touch you while still breathing. Consequently, longer term, these can leech into the surrounding soil and poison the environment. And graves themselves are often reinforced with concrete - a material exuding one of the heaviest carbon footprints of all during its manufacture.

So the funeral business is a long way indeed from being remotely eco-friendly. What should be a very natural process of reassimilation into the Universe has instead become a significant contributor to the degradation of Mother Earth.

It would be far better to deregulate land use further and encourage burials in eco-friendly coverings or biodegradable, non-intensively manufactured coffins. Instead of selling off our national forests as the Conservative Government is proposing, we should use them as natural cemeteries, where people could visit the trees and shrubs that could be living testimonies to their deceased loved ones. Then, rather than causing damage to the planet from which we sprang, our passing can be marked as a celebration of our own life and the new life that our end forges in the biosphere around us.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have too much of a problem with the waste heat from a crematorium being used sensibly, so long as the dignity of the dead is kept, and shown respect, and the family and friends can say their final goodbyes in the manner to which they are accustomed.

    But I do have a problem with cremation per se. It is a very carbon intensive practice, and causes a lot of pollution, not just carbon dioxide from the natural gas used to cremate the remains, but oxides of nitrogen (implcated in low level ozone production) and other combustion products such as dioxins are very likely to be present.

    There is another way... or will be, soon, if the wishes of a Swedish Biologist, Susanne Wiigh-Masak, are realised. She has spent 20 years developing Promession, a freeze-drying and composting funeral which has a carbon footprint a fraction of that of a cremation.

    The process is fully automated, and uses a waste product from the oxygen industry, liquid nitrogen. The deep-frozen body is gently vibrated to a powder, subjected to a vacuum which removes all the water, metals are removed and the remains are then placed in a biodegradable casket for placement in the top layers of the soil. Here it decays quite quickly, within a year, apparently, into a soil-like substance. This keeps the bodily remains in the living world of soil organisms and plant roots.

    I find this more acceptable than a deep burial of a body composed of 70% water, which as it putrefies anaerobically, gives off methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and leachate which could pollute groundwater.

    I'm looking forward to Promessa UK ( ) opening their first Promatorium (it will probably be a local authority premises) and this being offered as a green choice. I would like my freeze-dried remains to be sprinkled on a compost heap to add to the nutrients of the soil used to grow crops.

    A fitting end for a keen gardener... but I'd like a few more years of life before this happens!

    John Cossham