Cremation and Burial Alternatives
In the past, funeral planning was simple and straightforward. You bought a burial plot, a casket, and said your goodbyes. Choice was limited, and you often ended up with the same casket or headstone the rest of the family had. In more recent decades, the popularity of cremation meant that families hoping to cut back on expenses or simplify the process had additional options.
These days, funerals are as unique and personalized as our loved ones, and we aren’t restricted to burial or cremation. Although these cremation alternatives haven’t yet caught on as mainstream body disposal options, they do provide a look at the future of funeral planning and how we can all work together to find safe and green alternatives.
- Water Resolution: In water resolution, professionals use water, heat, and potassium hydroxide to break down the body into an ash-like substance that is similar to cremains. (It also breaks the tissues down into a watery byproduct that is harmless to the environment, which is then disposed of.) The process produces no greenhouse gases or air pollution, and uses a tenth of the energy of traditional cremation.
- Promession: Promession is a type of freeze-drying process that reduces the body to a powder-like substance similar to cremation ashes. By immersing the body into liquid nitrogen, most of the body’s fluids are frozen and removed, which allows the body to be broken down through a simple vibration process. The remains are then either stored in a vacuum-sealed container or buried on permissible grounds. It is currently only available in a few select European countries.
- Body Composting: Using the body’s remains to provide a benefit to the eco-system is something being explored by scientists all over the globe. Due to health concerns, composting can only be done under strict scientific parameters, but it is becoming a more viable option. Promession is considered a type of this, since the body’s remains can be directly into the ground to provide valuable fertilizer. Other options include whole body composting.
- Donation: If giving back to the world is important to you, body donation is a great alternative to both cremation and burial. When you make arrangements to donate your remains to a medical school, university, or other research facility, you have a chance to impact the future of science in a big way—and usually without any out-of-pocket costs. This option can be hard on families, though, so make sure you make advance arrangements if this is important to you.
In the United States, it’s still pretty difficult to move very far outside the accepted norm when it comes to funeral planning. Strict safety and health laws are in place to protect consumers and to ensure that we are all informed as we make decisions about the way we handle human remains. However, the future is likely to hold many different cremation and burial alternatives, many of which help save the planet and lower funeral costs overall.