Arron Wood

Sustainable Business and Education Leader

Can you be green even when you die?

About 2% of people are choosing green burials.  When you hear the words eco-casket, recycled timber coffin or biodegradable cardboard does it pique your interest or just give you the heebeegeebees?

The Australian Cemeteries and Crematoria Association - defines natural burials as “the act of returning the body as naturally as possible to the earth”.

Most importantly in terms of environmental impact this is achieved without the use of cremation, which can generate up to 160kg of greenhouse gasses per corpse, and without the use of embalming liquids that often contain the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde, that can leak into the soil once a body is buried.

There are so many ways the business of dying can reduce its impact on the environment and many leading cemeteries are taking action accordingly.  They’re installing renewable energy for cremation, reducing emissions from Mercury fillings, undertaking burial in biodegradable biopods instead of caskets and some providers are even offering upright burial in a shroud.

A few years back South Australia legislated to allow Natural burial which can involve use of a biodegradable coffin or wrapping remains in a shroud and bodies are not usually treated with any chemicals.

Plantings are often made at a burial site instead of a traditional headstone being used to complete to eco credentials of the burial and personally, I think the whole idea of returning to the earth has a lovely, spiritual feel to it and then a plant growing from your released energy is very mother earth!

Another option to reduce impact is Aquamation. It uses the chemical process of alkaline hydrolysis – natural way in which a body decomposes if buried without a coffin in the soil, or placed in flowing water.

A combination of flowing water, high temp & alkalinity to accelerate the natural course of tissue hydrolysis and chemical breakdown.  The process takes place in a stainless steel vessel. At the end of this short process, the body has been broken down into chemical form and dissolved into the water. The only solid remains are the bones. Aquamation uses just 10% of the energy needed in a cremation and there are no air emissions. 

Burial is availability is decreasingly due to land shortages. Aquamation can be a greener solution.

Companies like these are starting to offer green burials: