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Green Burials - A Growing Trend

Biodegradable Urns and What to Expect When Purchasing One

Being environmentally friendly is no longer only a way of life, it’s also a way of after-life. More and more Americans have been embracing the option of cremation over traditional burials.  In a 2008 survey conducted by funeral industry publishers Kates-Boylston Publications, 43 percent of respondents said that they would consider a green burial. Only a year before 21 percent expressed curiosity about green burials in an AARP study.

Although not embraced by a large part of the population right now, green burials have been gradually gaining interest and press. Consequently, biodegradable urns are becoming increasingly popular, and easier to find, as a way to support a greener burial.

What materials are used to make a biodegradable urn?

Biodegradable urns are primarily containers or vessels to hold ashes of a dear one who has departed. The distinguishing quality of biodegradable urns from other urns for ashes is that they are made of organic materials capable of decomposing naturally. These materials include:

  • recycled paper
  • leaves
  • handmade paper
  • wool fibre
  • tree barks
  • natural untreated wood
  • compacted peat
  • coconut shells
  • rock salt
  • sand and various other materials that breakdown in the earth and water.

There are also special biodegradable porcelain urns and even urns made from corn-starch.

The production of a biodegradable urn employs natural eco-friendly substances. No plastic, metal or chemicals go into their manufacture. No dyes or adhesives are used. To keep the paint non toxic, a natural base such as milk is used. The dyes, too, are plant based or derived from other natural substances like clay.

What are the considerations when purchasing a biodegradable urn?

  1. The awareness in which the purchase is made must be kept in mind. These urns are environmentally friendly, eco-sensitive and leave little to no carbon footprint.
  2. Consider where the urn would ultimately be used or reside. This can help one decide on a scattering urn, a water urn or a biodegradable earth burial urn. Will the burial be at sea or on land?
  3. Finally and on a related note, choose an urn based on a material that suits its function, and that fits within a budget when necessary. For sentimental or practical reasons some might want to go with a recycled paper urn, while others might choose one made of sand or a wooden urn for ashes.

Then there is the portability consideration. If one quickly scans through the materials used for biodegradable urns, the majority are lightweight and easily portable. They are by definition organic. They are most often easy to transport.

Within the family of urns, many biodegradable urns are more economical, especially when compared to marble urns, metal urns and other non-biodegradable options available. But don't be surprised to find that some are more expensive than the traditional urns available online. This is a result of the care and science that goes into manufacturing them properly. Some require special packaging so that they don't become damaged during shipping or while being stored which also adds to the cost.

Biodegradable urns differ from other urns in additional ways. They are created in the spirit of becoming one with earth and water. Hence they are not primarily keepsake urns, but are meant to merge with the elements of nature. Scattering urns uphold one’s wish to be scattered over a favorite place. OneWorld Memorial’s articles on ash scattering memorials and ash scattering regulations provide interesting and important information for someone considering a scattering ceremony.

Scattering urns are specially designed to become part of nature. Special water biodegradable urns float, sink and ultimately dissolve in water, along with the ashes. Earth burial urns over time break down into their constituent elements and become part of the texture of the earth.

Do cremation and biodegradable urns help the environment?

The trend toward an increase in cremation is fueled by both cost and environmental concerns. Crematoriums have gone from being coke fueled to using gas, to running on electricity. They continue to evolve toward being more efficient and eco-friendly.

Eco-sensitivity, however, doesn't need to end there. Ashes can be buried in biodegradable urns, literally becoming one with nature, in one’s after-life.

All forms of after-life rituals carry an environmental impact, some less and others more so. The Chesterfield Borough Council features a page on their website titled “Environmental Impact of Burial and Cremation.” According to the information, originally the move from traditional burial to cremation was brought about due to land use. Post World War II, land was sought to be utilized for food. Over time the concerns for land use became less of an issue as the use of cremation became recognized for its sustainability and environmental friendliness. While cremations are certainly more economical than traditional burials, the complete environmental impacts are still to be understood.

Burial creates no air pollution. Factors related to burials that carry environmental concerns are:

  • the impact of herbicides and prolonged use of petrol lawn mowers used in cemeteries
  • coffins could be made of, or contain, materials like plastic and steel which have a direct negative effect on the environment

Our blog “What’s the enviromental impact of our death – part 1” provides details relating to the environmental impact of traditional burials on the earth.

Cremation, while bypassing these long term effects, sometimes utilizes fossil fuels or releases toxins from the body, which could be from dental fillings, body implants and so on.

Our planning guide “Cremation: What is it?” provides issues to discuss with a crematory adviser to make well-informed decisions. More and more crematoriums are recommending having devices like pacemakers and spinal cord stimulators, which might explode in the furnace, removed before cremation in a step forward towards being environmentally friendly. 

Whichever choice one makes, there is a definite pull towards eco-friendliness, drawing attention to processes of burial rituals and materials used. One’s personal concerns for the environment needn't end with one’s life, but can become part of one’s legacy. There are various ways of doing this. 

Many people donate to charitable organizations that support the environment. Others donate their bodies for scientific research or vital organs for transplant and so on. Similarly an increasing number of people are choosing environmentally friendly burials or cremation for oneself or for loved ones. As mentioned before, one way of doing so, is by opting for biodegradable urns. If you choose to say goodbye to a beloved with a biodegradable urn, you are opting for a lighter, portable, cost effective and above all natural choice.

While all of us will one day merge back into the elements of which we are composed, there is some grace and comfort in doing so in an ecologically sensitive manner. It both honors the spirit of the departed, as well as the earth, on which we survive.