Green Funeral Homes are, like everything else “green” these days, are a popular choice. And the good news for consumers is that just about any funeral home operating today has the capacity to be green. Many funeral homes, in fact, have made green procedures (in otherwords environmentally sound practices) a routine part of their business practices. Recycling bins, low-emission vehicles, and recycled paper are now as commonly found in funeral homes as they are in any other part of our modern world, for example. But some funeral homes are ahead of the game a little and, for this article, we will call them green funeral homes. Here are just some of the environmentally friendly funeral home features that we believe comprise a green funeral home.
Green embalming is a green funeral home feature that is helping to keep drinking water safe for millions of homes across the United States. For decades, embalming was done (and, unfortunately, still is done in some establishments) with toxic chemicals that, while used with the good intention of preserving a body for display at a memorial ceremony, caused plenty of environmental problems once buried with a body. In the beginning (during the Civil War period) embalming was routinely done with the deadly poison Arsenic. When concern for the safety of cemetery and funeral home workers – not to mention those in attendance at a funeral – began to become paramount in the early-to-mid 20th century, the relatively safe alternative of formaldehyde became common in most embalming procedures. But, in the last 20th century, environmental scientists discovered that formaldehyde from bodies buried in cemeteries leaked into the ground as a body decomposed, and ended up making its way into water supplies used for drinking and other important human uses. Green Funeral Homes have now taken the initiative to replace their embalming fluid with a more environmentally friendly chemical called glutaraldehyde, considered far less toxic than formaldehyde. Because even glutarldehyde has its environmental risks, many consumers who are concerned about environmental issues choose to forgo embalming all together these days. (In fact, some establishments that call themselves Green Funeral Homes do not even offer embalming as a service.) But, at the very least, if the health of our environment is an important factor, you should ask your funeral home what chemical it will use for an embalming you may order. If the answer is anything but glutaraldehyde, the chances are strong that you are dealing with one of the fewer-and-fewer numbers of funeral homes that would not be considered a Green Funeral Home. Many individuals who prefer a green burial, rather than cremation, also look into green burial caskets, such as that to the left, which are made of biodegradable materials that allow the casket, and body, to eventually work their way back into the cycle of life that is the Earth.
Green cremation is another feature offered at Green Funeral Homes. As with embalming and formaldehyde, cremation has a poisonous by-product that has long-term (and often hard to detect) negative affects on the environment: mercury. Almost anyone who has had a tooth cavity filled in the last 100 years has a tiny bit of the deadly poison in his or her body. The mercury remains dormant and harmless so long as the tooth surrounding it stays in tact. But, when a body is cremated, the mercury is released and becomes air pollution that is harmful to any number of different types of wildlife. To prevent this, a Green Funeral Home will take steps to remove – and properly dispose of – all mercury fillings before a cremation is completed. Green Funeral Homes will also employ crematoriums equipped with a “clean smokestack” outfitted with a filter designed to catch most of the pollution by-product of a cremation. Because cremation is sometimes considered the “greenest” of the common disposal methods used today, it is often the preferred choice for people interested in environmental issues. So, if you are choosing cremation for you or your loved one, it’s important to ask if your funeral home will remove all mercury fillings and if it is equipped with a clean smokestack in its crematory. If not, again, chances are it cannot be truly called a Green Funeral Home.
To compliment a green cremation are biodegradable cremation ash vessels. These vessels are designed to allow families to scatter, or inter, the ashes of their dearly beloved with a minimal impact on the environment. For example, the burial urns are often crafted from a biodegradable material, such as a natural paper, and will break down in the elements over time, allowing the remains to, eventually, become one with nature. On the other hand, there are a variety of urns designed for sea burial. Rather than scattering the remains over a body of water, these vessels can be placed directly into the sea or ocean, and will float momentarily, before sinking. These urns are also made of materials that allow the vessel to breakdown over time, with little effect on the surroundings.
And, finally, one of the most visible signs of a Green Funeral Home is the use of low-emission vehicles for the purposes of transporting bodies. A hearse, by it’s nature is a large vehicle that is often below average in terms of fuel efficiency. But some Green Funeral Homes have made sure to equip the hearses in their service with low emission features so as to capture some of the air pollution they create and, thereby, make up, environmentally speaking, for the excess fuel that they consume.
These are just some of the ways that funeral homes across America and the world have transformed themselves over the years into Green Funeral Homes.