Historically, people buried their loved ones with the intent of preserving their bodies.Embalmed with formaldehyde, secured in a chemically treated metal or wood casket, and often placed in a concrete vault reinforced with metal or plastic, human bodies have been preserved in time beneath us. However, the significance of a burial or cremation service has changed.People increasingly do not want to preserve their loved ones, but to honor them in a ceremonious, eco-friendly way.
Since 2003, green cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis, has been legal in the state of Minnesota. It has recently seen an uptick in popularity. The process entails placing the body in a pressurized vessel and filling it with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide, a naturally decomposing element found in the ground. The vessel is then heated to a temperature that dissolves the body in approximately three hours. It leaves behind bone matter and artificial body parts.
The bone matter is processed down to ash, which can be given to the families and friends of the deceased, as in a traditional cremation process. Pacemakers and other metals are donated to local hospitals to repurpose for artificial body parts.
“Many clients adhere less and less to religious burial traditions, and people are also caring more for the earth,” says Anne Christ, funeral director of Bradshaw Funeral, which uses green cremation. “Often, folks are seeing bodies as more of a vessel, rather than something that needs to be in a shrine. For them, the preservation of the body is no longer a prevalent feeling or thought.”
Though green cremation is legal in 17 states, including Minnesota, it remains illegal in others due to common misunderstandings of the process and disbelief that the process is better for the environment. Christ says clients are increasingly choosing green cremation over flame-based cremation, which produces carbon dioxide and pollutants. She says their funeral home services approximately 1,000 families each year. 64 percent of them choose cremation, with 80 percent of those choosing green cremation.
People are becoming more data driven, Christ says, so more people are asking to see the numbers that show how green cremation is better for the environment. Overall, she says people choose green cremation based simply on a gut feeling. “People from religious backgrounds often think of it like baptism,” she says. “We start in the water, and we end in the water.”
After a green cremation, families and friends can use a biodegradable urn, or keep them in a more traditional urn. “It’s become popular to buy jewelry that you can put a few of the ashes in,” Christ says.
Christ says green cremation is especially helpful for densely populated areas that are running out of space for burials. People are beginning to see that “there doesn’t need to be a body to celebrate a life,” she says.
Funeral Consumers Alliance, fcaofmn.org