Sleeping with the Fishes: Alternatives to Burial and Cremation


The world is running out of burial space. It is estimated that the UK will have no burial space left in the next twenty years. Despite pressures to implement a coffin reuse policy on a national scale, London is the only area of the country that permits this unique form of recycling. Not only are we running out of land for burials, the burials themselves have a huge environmental impact, and cremation, in the long run, doesn’t fare much better.


From ancient Egyptian mummification, to 6th century sky burials, there are many examples from the ancient world where our ancestors outshone us in terms of non-polluting burial customs. In modern times, our answer to the death of a loved one often leads to as much CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere as having driven a car just shy of 500 miles!


With growing concerns over climate change and the ecological future of our planet, it is no wonder that people are starting to seriously reconsider the ways in which we honour the dead. The demand for more resourceful, environmentally-conscious alternatives to the standard options is on the rise, and fortunately, we are well on the way to a total rehashing of the funeral industry.



What is a natural burial?


A natural burial is essentially turning the body into compost using a process called ‘organic reduction’. Devoid of the embalming and concrete vaults that line most cemeteries, a natural burial involves placing the body into a biodegradable casket so that it eventually re-joins the earth to become part of the cycle of life. Burial grounds could double as nature preserves if only we shifted our mindset away from contemporary favoured options.


A burial suit made out of… mushrooms?


Part of the ever-growing green funeral movement is this rather unusual method of burial involving lots and lots of mushrooms. In the US, mushrooms suits currently cost $1,500, five hundred dollars less than the average cost of a casket. There are now several companies that offer this all-natural service. Each mushrooms suit is comprised of numerous biodegradable mushrooms and microorganisms which both break down the body as well as neutralise toxins. They even help to promote new growth in surrounding soil.



Under the sea?


Albeit in conjunction with cremation, you can now opt for an underwater memorial by becoming ‘coral’ on the seafloor. Eternal Reefs, a Florida-based charity, create perforated reef ‘balls’ to commemorate the deceased, offering a “way to give back after life by replenishing the dwindling natural reef systems”. Mimicking some elements of the natural habitat of an actual coral reef, these structures help to restore marine life, providing protection for an array of aquatic creatures. The operations director voiced that the Neptune Memorial Reef in Florida, an artistic rehashing of the Lost City of Atlanta, is ‘home to 56 species of fish, as well as crabs, sea urchins, sponges and coral.’ This service has also made its way into our waters, with a Dorset-based company recently following suit. Whilst these services still use traditional cremation, they are a greener alternative given their positive impact on natural ocean habitats, especially considering the myriad dangers facing coral reefs at present.


Is organ donation environmentally friendly?


As of 2020, the UK changed its laws surrounding organ donation from opt-in to opt-out. Many lives can be saved by having pro-organ-donation as default. Though most people do not die in circumstances that make organ donation possible, with only a one percent chance of body donation after death, this still equates to over one hundred potential donations each year in the UK.


Body donation also serves to improve medical education, training, and understanding in the scientific field. Currently, this process is being used to study conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson's in search of a cure. Donating the human body to science has the power to create a butterfly effect which can positively affect the future of healthcare for generations to come.


However, although body donation can be of benefit to the scientific community, and those in desperate need of replacement organs, the bodies are often either buried or cremated afterwards, meaning at present this process is not very environmentally conscious.


What form of cremation has the lowest environmental impact?


Perhaps the least environmentally impactful method of reducing a body to ashes is Resomation, otherwise known as water cremation or aquamation. Using water instead of flames, resomation treats the body via a process of alkaline hydrolysis which reduces a body to powder in a matter of hours.


The body is initially placed in an entirely biodegradable coffin or veil and later moved into a resomation capsule which reduces the body down into its most basic elements. The capsule is pressurised and heated, and, with the addition of potassium hydroxide and water, the body is turned to ash. Similar to cremation, the ash is returned in an urn to relatives.


Amongst many other environmental toxins, cremation releases toxic metals into the air in the form of mercury (from mercury amalgams) which can leak into aquifers or groundwater. Alkaline hydrolysis however completely eliminates airborne emissions, instead mimicking the natural decomposition of the body. It also boasts a carbon footprint less than a tenth the size of the impact of a standard cremation. The leftover remains are even usable as fertilizer on farmland.


Is scattering ashes in space environmentally friendly?


Aura Flights brings a rather extraordinary option to the table. With the aid of our unique scattering vessels, we can send a loved one’s ashes to the edge of space where they will traverse the stratospheric winds around the globe for many months. Our service uses renewable hydrogen gas to provide the lift force for our biodegradable balloons, and is fully compatible with resomation and aquamation as well as traditional cremation. To find out more about the environmental impact of a space scattering, check out our environmental policy, or speak to our team today to plan a breath-taking final journey into space.