March 24, 2014

The Greenwashing of Cremation. ~ Marcee Murray King

Photo: Matt Townsend/Flickr

“The one thing I want to ban from our green cemetery are cremated remains,” Maggie casually brought up in our meeting.

Huh? The rest of us turned and looked at her. Really? No cremation? What could possibly be wrong with cremation? Isn’t it the perfect solution to disposing of a corpse? Isn’t cremation the greenest option available? Plus, the other green cemeteries allow for the scattering and burying of ashes.

In our area, at-home funerals are quite popular, so much so that we have our own local green funeral group, Threshold Care Circle. They teach workshops  throughout the midwest on how to do funerals at home, and assist families with the passing of their loved ones, complete with jumping through all the legal hoops and where to get dry ice for the body’s three-day at-home wake.

The one issue we are still facing is that there is no cemetery around that will allow for green burials: A cemetery that will allow for simple pine caskets or bodies in shrouds to be placed directly in the ground, without the concrete casing that is usually required. No formaldehyde in the bodies. Bodies easily able to decompose. That is what our group is trying to do.  We are seeking out a place to establish a cemetery to bury these loved ones in a truly green, environmentally safe manner.

But not allow cremated remains? Wasn’t cremation the ideal, with nothing more than some ashes left to scatter?

Not so, Maggie told us.

The terrible truth is this: Cremation is horrible for the environment.

Simply put, there is a huge amount of energy expended raising the temperatures in the crematorium to the 1825-ish degrees needed to burn the body down to some bones and ash. Some cremation furnaces allow more harmful pollutants released into the air, some less.

Horrifyingly,  there are claims that the crematoriums in the United States alone release some 5000 pounds of mercury each year from dental fillings left in the bodies. The EPA and cremation industry claim the numbers are much lower, 240 pounds a year. Some sources estimate that by 2020, there will be up to 17,000 pounds of mercury released annually. With the toxicity of mercury and the multitude of illnesses associated with it, any amount released into the air is too much.

We needed no further convincing. Without the need for further discussion, we all agreed that cremated remains were not in alignment with the intent of our green cemetery.



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