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After Death: Beyond Burial and Cremation

by Carlo Alcos Oct 20, 2011
When you’re talking about finite resources like space or fuel, it does seem a bit preposterous that we’re expending so much of it on dead people. ~ Sarah Ditum

I DON’T REALLY care what is done with my body after I die. Ideally, I hope that my body can be used in whatever way is necessary to save or prolong someone else’s life. But aside from that, my only request is to do whatever is most natural and best for the environment. Last month I posted about being turned into a tree after cremation; where the ashes are placed in a bio-degradable urn that contains soil and the seed of a tree. I love trees, so I loved this idea.

But according to Sarah Ditum in this interview on the Q at CBC Radio, cremation is not very environmentally-friendly. Cremating a body requires tremendous amounts of fuel. Its traditional alternative — burial in a cemetery — uses up a lot of space and eventually that space will run out. So the alternatives?


    1. : A process called alkaline hydrolysis chemically breaks down the body producing sterile liquid and bone ash. The liquid enters the sewage system and the ash is returned to the family.


    : The body is “freeze-dried then pulverized into a soil-friendly powder.” According to Ditum, this process uses 1/7th the energy required for cremation.

In response to the host’s point that people are attached to the cultural and spiritual symbol of the traditional forms of dealing with dead bodies, Ditum says that cremation is relatively new, having only been around since the end of 19th century. It was controversial at first, but is now widely accepted. When asked whether or not she would choose one of these methods for herself, she said that she would like to have a “green burial,” where the body is not embalmed and is placed in a wicker basket and buried in pasture or woodland and left to compost naturally.

I like this last option myself. It seems to me the most in tune with the cycle of life and nature; I like the idea that the nutrients in my body will go on to nourish other living organisms.

What do you want done with your body when you die? *Ditum’s piece in The Guardian on the subject inspired the interview

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