Eco-friendliness isn’t likely at the top of people’s choices when deciding where to lay their departed loved ones to rest. The funeral planning process is already mentally and emotionally burdensome for many. The added factor of adding sustainability into the mix just overcomplicates the process.
However, it’s not farfetched to imagine more and more families in Singapore will want to consider green funerals and eco-friendly burial sites for their deceased loved ones. As societies and industries in different parts of the world adopt greener practices to combat the effects of climate change, so do funeral providers.
In Singapore, funeral parlours have begun providing more sustainable funeral packages. Green burials are a welcome alternative to tree burials and storing a deceased’s cremated remains in biodegradable pods or containers.
Below, we delve deeper into sustainable funeral practices in other countries and how the existence of natural burial sites helps diminish carbon footprint and promote eco-friendly methods of laying the deceased to rest.
Table of Contents
1. Tree Burial
While funeral practices vary from religion to religion, traditional burials have similar elements: The deceased’s body is prepared to be placed in a casket, presented during a funeral service, and brought to the cemetery for the final burial.
But sustainable funeral practices are much more different. Tree burial services, for instance, do away with the traditional casket/coffin. They’re a unique alternative to conventional burials and take place in natural/green cemeteries.
In tree burials, a person’s remains are placed in a biodegradable pod or urn, then buried in the ground and covered with soil. The pod is buried near a tree base.
This process allows the tree to absorb nutrients from the decomposing remains and use them to grow. More profoundly, it represents a natural life and death cycle, as the deceased’s remains once again become part of the tree and its surrounding ecosystem.
Tree burials have a minimal environmental impact and are viewed as a way to honour and remember a loved one naturally and beautifully.
2. Sea Burial
In Singapore, sea burials are a traditional and culturally significant way of honouring the deceased. Families who choose this option can have their loved ones’ remains scattered into the open water in designated sea burial sites like the south of Pulau Semakau.
To conduct a sea burial in Singapore, the deceased’s body is placed in a specially designed casket or urn and then transported by boat to a designated location in the sea. The casket or urn is then lowered into the water, and the family members can choose to scatter flowers or other mementoes on the water to say goodbye.
The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore oversees sea burials to ensure that they are conducted following the law and safely and respectfully. They require that sea burials are conducted at least three nautical miles away from the shore and that the casket or urn is biodegradable and contains no hazardous materials.
3. Human Composting
Terramation or composting of remains may seem unconventional as a green burial method. But Washington state in the US has introduced it as a legal alternative to cremation and was subsequently embraced by several families.
As the name suggests, human composting is a process that converts human remains into nutrient-rich soil that can be used to fertilise plants and trees. Human remains are placed in a container with organic materials like wood chips, straw, and alfalfa sprouts.
Over several weeks, naturally-occurring microbes break down the human remains alongside organic matter into compost. It can then be used for gardening, tree-planting, and other agricultural purposes.
Many Americans prefer this green burial method over traditional burials involving chemicals like embalming fluid and non-recyclable materials like concrete or metal.
One funeral parlour in the US even integrates technology into this green burial technique by adding sensors and trackers to ensure optimal conditions for the decomposition process. The compost is placed in natural burial grounds, where families can visit and add flowers or other biodegradable mementoes.
Aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis involves prolonged immersion of the deceased’s body in water and a strong alkali mixture (potassium hydroxide). It is then stored in an extremely hot and pressurised container, causing the tissues and skin to liquefy.
Similar to body composting, aquamation is legal only in certain countries. In fact, the body of anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu will be one of the first to be aquamated in South Africa, which has no legislation governing this funeral practice.
Aquamation proves sustainable as burial spaces in urban locations worldwide become scarce and expensive. Advocates claim that liquid cremation is less energy-intensive than conventional cremation. It emits fewer greenhouse gasses as well.
5. Mushroom Burial Suit
Did you know that late Hollywood actor Luke Perry was buried in a biodegradable burial container made of mushroom spores?
Another unconventional method, mushroom suit burial, may seem like an affront to families that prefer sticking to tradition. It is understandable for people to be less welcoming of the idea, but for those with an open mind, it is another option for natural burials.
The suit, also known as the Infinity Burial Suit, is a compostable burial shroud made of mushroom spores. These spores assist in decomposing the remains and filtering toxins from them so they don’t contaminate the surrounding plant life after the body is buried in the ground.
The mushroom suit is made of biodegradable materials and microorganisms that speed up decomposition. Once the suit is buried, these compounds produce enzymes that naturally break down the body and eliminate toxic waste like lead, BPA, pesticides, and mercury.
6. Sky Burial
Many cultures follow unique and meaningful traditions regarding eco-friendly end-of-life arrangements. One such tradition is Tibet’s sky burial, a spiritual and symbolic way of naturally returning the body to the sky and earth.
During a sky burial, the deceased’s body is brought to a high location, usually on a mountaintop and left for the vultures to feed on.
This ancient burial practice has existed for over 11,000 years and is based on the belief that the body is merely a temporal vessel and no longer required after death. The Tibetans believe feeding the body to the vultures releases the soul and allows it to move peacefully into the afterlife.
Tibetan sky burials also serve a functional purpose. The region’s climate often reaches freezing point, making it difficult to dig graves. Sky burials are believed to return the departed’s vessel to earth with minimal disturbance.
7. Biodegradable Coffins
Traditional coffins are often fabricated from wood and have some biodegradable properties. But, they’re mostly fashioned out of metal (steel, copper, bronze) which isn’t biodegradable and has harmful environmental impacts.
Biodegradable coffins are a more sustainable alternative. The remains are buried in biodegradable soft wood, cardboard, or bamboo caskets. No embalming fluid, grave liners, or headstones are involved.
Some cemeteries in the US offer green funerals involving such coffins. These eco-friendly materials may also help protect and preserve wildlife, transforming traditional cemeteries into natural burial grounds.
In Singapore, eco-friendly caskets such as paper coffins and willow caskets are also offered to families who want to opt for greener send-off. These caskets are suitable for both cremation and burial processes.
Conclusion About Green Burials
While the concept of green burials may still be relatively new to many, it is rapidly gaining popularity as people become more aware of their environmental impact and seek more sustainable options.
In Singapore, eco-friendly funeral options are few and far between, but more funeral directors are offering green funeral packages. The growing interest in sustainable burials is probably due to the city-state’s limited land size and resources. More and more people are turning towards suitable, cost-effective, and space-saving alternatives.
Despite such efforts, Singapore has a long way to go before adopting eco-friendly funeral practices. Traditional beliefs and cultural traditions surrounding death and funerals can make accepting new and unconventional methods difficult.
Nevertheless, families are slowly but surely factoring in environmental impacts when deciding on funeral-related matters.
Frequently Asked Questions About Green Burials
How Long Does It Take For A Body To Decompose In A Green Burial?
The decomposition period depends on soil type, moisture, and oxygen levels. But it takes about six weeks on average for the remains’ soft tissues to dissolve. Complete decomposition may take up to two years.
What's The Most Environmentally-Friendly Burial?
Natural burials are the most eco-friendly, as the remains needn’t be cremated or prepared with chemicals. They’re placed in biodegradable coffins and interred without concrete burial vaults. The burial site effectively returns to nature.
Why Are Green Burials Better?
Green burials produce less carbon footprint, as they do away with cement, steel, chemicals, and other non-biodegradable components.
Are Green Burials Cheaper?
It depends. Green burials can be cheaper or more expensive, depending on the method. But they’re much more affordable in theory because they don’t involve costs from embalming, caskets, concrete vaults, and other funeral elements.