EOL Guide: What Are The Options For My Body When I Die?
The Population Reference Bureau estimated that around 117 billion people have ever lived on the earth. They arrived at this number by considering census data, tax records, birth rates, and life expectancy.
They also estimate that there are 15 dead people for every living person. While all those people were not buried traditionally, a large percentage were. That's a lot of bodies in our soil and a lot of formaldehyde, methanol, treated wood, concrete, and chemical-laden casket liners.
As we start to realize the problems we are creating for ourselves and explore what, outside of traditional burial and conventional cremation, is available to us, we can start here.
During water cremation, also called alkaline hydrolysis or resomation, a body is placed into a high pressure tank and the combination of 95% water and 5% sodium hydroxide (lye) is heated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Essentially, the process makes happen in two to three hours what would take decades to happen in a buried casket. Ashes are available, as in traditional cremation, for loved ones to spread or keep.
Almost 90% less energy is used during this process than traditional flame cremation. Alkaline hydrolysis is currently legal in 20 states in the US. Hopefully, our remaining states will expeditiously legalize the process as it is one of the most effective solutions we have to better care for our earth and atmosphere. The cost of water cremation is usually between $1295 - $3995. To find out if it is available in your state, a quick google search of "alkaline hydrolysis in [insert state you live in]" will get you started. If you are interested, now is the best time to start planning.
In green burial, a body is placed, without being embalmed, in an easily biodegradable coffin or shroud. No vault is used and the grave is often more shallow than the traditional six feet. No fossil fuels are used in green burial; this is especially important because when fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide in large quantity into the air. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere as sunlight is not able to be released back into space. The planet is warmed beyond what is in balance with the entire ecosystem, causing water shortages, more severe hurricanes and droughts, and heavier rainfall and flooding. According to the NRDC, nine of out of the 10 hottest years since 1880 have occurred since 2005 and the five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2015.
To learn about your state’s requirements and regulations for burial, visit Green Burial Council.
(From Mary Woodsen of Cornell University and Greensprings Natural Preserve via Green Burial Council)
Burials in the United States use approximately:
• 4.3 million gallons embalming fluid, 827,060 gallons of which is formaldehyde, methanol, and benzene
• 20 million board feet of hardwoods, including rainforest woods
• 1.6 million tons of concrete
• 17,000 tons of copper and bronze
• 64,500 tons of steel
• Caskets and vaults leaching iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt
Natural organic reduction, also known as human composting, is when a body is laid in a cradle surrounded by wood chips, straw, and alfalfa, then placed inside a vessel and surrounded by more plant material. It is left alone for 30 days, during which time microbes break it down on the molecular level, leaving a nutrient-dense soil. Recompose offers the option to donate the soil to a legally protected natural wilderness where clear-cut fields are recovering in Washington. You may of course choose to pick up the soil to keep or donate a portion. The Recompose service price is $5500. Loved ones have the option of a live streamed “laying in” of the body.
Right now, natural organic reduction is legal in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon.
Donate to Science
When one chooses to donate their body to science, scientists can advance their understanding of caring for the health of people still living. Donations also enable medical students to more effectively comprehend complex anatomy and better serve future patients in countless ways, including life or death scenarios. Many institutions utilize either traditional or water cremation after their research is complete, at no cost to the family.
The availability and how to’s of whole-body donation vary state-to-state. A quick internet search of “whole body donation in [insert state] will get you the info you need to move forward.
Ashes to Trees or Seas
If you choose traditional or water cremation, you can opt to have your ashes put in a bio urn or mixed with concrete to make an eternal reef.
Bio urns turn cremated remains into trees. You choose the seed or seedling, mix the components, and plant it. Eternal reefs are made from cremated remains and environmentally safe concrete, then placed on the ocean floor to support marine life.
Another option for cremated remains are wearable jewelry, like diamonds, or stones for holding close.
The rest(ing place) is yours for the choosing.
Header photo: Gabe Pierce via Unsplash