You might be reading this because you are planning a funeral for someone who cared about the environment, or you may be thinking about sustainability for your own funeral. This is quite a broad subject and one where we are actively engaged in gathering and sharing knowledge, to make such decisions easier in the future. In fact, we are currently undertaking research to generate more data which will help people make informed planet friendly choices about different aspects of a funeral.
In this article we have chosen to focus on 7 areas to think about when planning a funeral that has a low impact on the environment. There are many more and our team would be happy to discuss the topic in more detail, or answer specific questions you may have about funeral sustainability.
Choose to be unembalmed
Green burials, such as woodland burials (more on that in a moment), generally require bodies to be unembalmed. This is because the chemicals used in embalming have been found to seep into groundwater, which can be harmful to the environment. If you care about the planet, we recommend that you specify your preference not to be embalmed.
Green funeral travel
At Full Circle Funerals we have our own fully electric eco hearse which is a popular option for those looking to reduce their impact on the environment. In an ideal world, everyone attending the funeral would walk or cycle to the venue. A lot depends on the availability of locations which are easily accessible and the willingness of those attending. It does make sense to consider travel and transport carefully, providing plenty of information on public transport options and car sharing as much as possible. Since the covid pandemic we are all more comfortable with streaming funerals online. This could be offered to people who want to limit their impact on the environment and have a distance to travel, although being present at a funeral can be incredibly important in the grieving process and a person’s decision to travel should always be respected
Alternatives to cremation
Cremation is the most popular choice in the UK (78% of people who died in the UK in 2020 were flame cremated using gas) but the process has a high environmental impact due to the energy used and reliance on fossil fuels. There are a number of alternatives to consider, although the choice in this country is still fairly limited. There are a good number of woodland burial sites, where burials take place in a natural woodland setting and the grave can be marked by planting a tree. Human composting and resomation (natural cremation with water) are other natural processes which have been designed to have low impact, although these are currently only available in the US. Watch this space, as there is growing interest and demand in the UK for green alternatives to cremation.
We recently ran a successful Crowdfunder to fund research into how different coffin types impact the environment. This study is now being carried out by Planet Mark and will gather data for ten common coffin choices, depending on whether they will be cremated (by flame or resomation) or buried (natural or traditional). The results will help people make more informed choices. In the meantime, eco caskets made from natural materials such as wicker and cardboard, which biodegrade easily, are popular options. There are of course many different variations on the market and some are greener than others, depending on where the materials have been sourced and the caskets made. If you need any more information to help you choose, we would be happy to help.
Green options for flowers and tributes
It is now fairly common to request charity donations instead of floral tributes at a funeral. If you do decide to have flowers, the greenest option is to choose locally grown seasonal blooms. Local growers can be found by visiting Flowers from the Farm or ask your florist to use local flowers. Other ideas include paperchains made by friends and family, paper flowers and handmade natural wreaths.
Planting a memorial tree or meadow
If you are considering the environment, you may prefer to plant a memorial tree or wildflower meadow as an alternative to a headstone or bench.
After the funeral
We know that travel contributes greatly to our environmental challenges and if people are regularly travelling long distance to a grave or other site to remember, then these miles can add up over the months and years. Post funeral rituals are really important but it is helpful to consider options which require less travelling. Choosing a place in a family garden for a memorial birdbath or rose bush, or a bench in a local park could be a beautiful and meaningful alternative.
You can also find out more here.