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Pure Cremation – a green way to go

Have you given any thought to the ‘green’ impact of what happens to your earthly remains?

The chances are you’re more aware of the importance of recycling your waste and reducing car and air travel. Yet the subject of what to do with your body once you have passed away, is just as important to the fragile balance of our ecosystem.

Pure Cremation has recently assessed its carbon footprint to understand what action is required to become a carbon neutral company. This has been achieved by working with the Carbon Trust to quantify the carbon footprint associated with its whole business and implementing the Carbon Trust’s recommendations to make reductions where possible and to mitigate unavoidable emissions through ‘offsetting’.

This has established a benchmark that Pure Cremation can use to measure its progress.

Any individual or organisation can become carbon neutral by understanding the environmental impact of day to day activities / lifestyle and purchasing enough ‘credits’ to neutralise the emissions generated – from fuel consumption and travel choices to products in a supply chain.

Buying credits through the Carbon Trust helps finance the development of the most cost-effective solutions to help remove emissions from the atmosphere at a global level, which includes funding renewable energy production and planting trees to help support biodiversity and local communities.

You can read the Pure Cremation Carbon Footprint Report. and below you can see how direct cremation compares with other forms of disposition of human remains.

Which traditional funeral option is better for the planet - cremation or burial?

The cost to the environment of any traditional funeral is significant.

You need to consider everything - chemical embalming fluid, the fuel needed to power the limousines and private cars that bring mourners to the funeral service venue, adhesives and solvents for producing MDF coffins, plastic coffin handles and leakproof linings, the enormous quantities of paper used in the administration of the arrangements…

Then there are the natural resources consumed, such as wood for the coffins and granite to make headstones (often imported from China) that all have to be cut, shaped and transported long distances.

Remember, too, that cemetery and crematorium landscapes need to be managed so that they are attractive and safe places to visit – it all takes its toll.

Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of research into the true environmental impact of burials, but we do know that any disturbance of the earth (even planting trees) causes the release of CO2 that has been locked away. This will be exacerbated by the use of diesel-fuelled mechanical diggers and multiplied where concrete lining is used (widespread in the USA) to construct the grave and make it easier to reuse in the future.

Cremations are closely regulated and monitored, so it’s much easier to quantify their impact and as 80% of UK families choose cremation, it is vital that we understand the consequences of this decision.

A typical crematorium will send between 160kg* (for a very efficient facility) and 190kg of CO2 into the atmosphere for each cremation it carries out —the equivalent of driving your car for 470 miles! It’s true that, in terms of land use, cremation provides a better solution compared with burial, but as well as the fossil fuel consumption, some crematoria still emit harmful particulates and toxins during the normal cremation process.

Many people don’t realise that the ashes or cremated remains themselves are harmful to the environment. As a result, we need to think carefully about their disposition, and make responsible choices.

Human cremated remains are extremely alkaline, making them harmful to plants and animals, including water and marine life. Some of our most beautiful areas have fragile ecosystems that would be ruined by carelessly dumping piles of toxic human remains.

Wide dispersal of the cremated remains is essential to reduce the negative effects on the environment, so while scattering at a favourite beauty spot might be possible, you must get permission from the landowner so they can manage the habitat that attracted you to that location in the first place! Even water dispersal should be done carefully, slowly scattering ashes in a flowing river or, if at sea, more than 3 nautical miles from the coast.

Is direct cremation more eco-friendly than a traditional funeral?

This is a very interesting question.

Direct cremation is a service where the remains of the deceased are cremated without any mourners present. This means a lower carbon footprint compared to a traditional funeral because there’s no need for embalming, or big, thirsty funeral vehicles, fewer staff movements and of course, no mourners travelling to the crematorium.

*Research from South Australia featured in the Burial and Cremation Education Trust report 2010 published by the ICCM

Pure Cremation is the UK’s only company to specialise solely in direct cremation and has invested heavily in making its entire operation as green as possible.  Having a single office rather than a national network of branches, plus state of the art mortuary facilities on site and the latest cremation equipment means that Pure Cremation is able to:

  • Use electronic documents so customers arrange the cremation from the comfort of home, rather than making multiple trips to a funeral parlour
  • Manage the transportation of the deceased in a very efficient way
  • Reduce the transportation of the deceased by having mortuary facilities within the crematorium site
  • Reduce the transport miles/coffin by purchasing eco-coffins in bulk
  • Carry out a very high volume of cremations in one location, dramatically reducing the consumption of gas used for each cremation
  • Apply the latest filtration technology to minimise harmful emissions, including dust filters to remove particulates and carbon filtration to eliminate toxins like mercury
  • Recover heat from within the crematory and wider building to reduce overall fossil fuel consumption
  • Offer a unique, biodegradable urn whose photo wrapper has been printed using vegetable inks
  • Offer an online book of remembrance to reduce memorial visits to the crematorium

All-in-all, it would appear that this form of simple cremation is the best way to achieve the lowest-carbon cremation.

A Pure Cremation emits just 81Kg ± of CO2 compared to the typical average of 180-190kg, making it even lower in emissions than a woodland burial.

± Carbon Trust report into Pure Cremation’s carbon footprint based on 193 tCO2 associated with the LPG consumed to carry out 2,374 cremations during 2019.

Are there even greener funeral options to be found?

Globally, cremation is very widely used for the disposition of the deceased, but there are other methods and technologies. Some are ancient, and others are completely new.

Earth, Sea & Sky

Burial at sea can be an option for anyone, providing a licence is obtained from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). The body must be wrapped in biodegradable clothing with no use of embalming fluids, and the coffin must be made from solid softwood, without any plastic, lead, copper or zinc. There are currently only three designated sites in British coastal waters where a burial at sea can take place.

The rise in the popularity of woodland burials, often with special trees being planted and ashes interred nearby, allows a more natural setting for your final resting place. The body is often placed in a shallower grave, disturbing less earth than a cemetery burial, and only coffins made from natural materials are permitted.

Here is an interesting free calculator from Greener Goodbyes which allows you to calculate the carbon footprint of a woodland burial. It's 100kg, much lower than a standard cremation, but still 18kg more than the average for a Pure Cremation.

There are more woodland burial sites becoming available nationwide—but by their very nature, these locations are usually a long way from any urban area, making it necessary to travel by car to reach them both on the day of the funeral and for remembrance visits in subsequent years.

A few people might opt to have their ashes scattered across the stratosphere. Whilst this is done by balloon and meets the criteria for very wide dispersal, you might question whether deliberately placing particulates into the atmosphere is a good idea.

New Technologies

Some US states have legalised one or other of these two new body disposal options:

Recompose is a company that has created a formal decomposition process which takes 30 days and results in a residue that can be used as a fertiliser. While there is no coffin and no disturbance of the ground, the composting facility itself will be quite a large building that uses electricity for heating and cooling, with parking for mourners wishing to visit, plus staff, machinery to turn the deceased and chemicals to aid the decomposition process.

Resomation, also referred to as ‘water cremation’ dissolves the body’s soft tissue using an alkaline solution, pressure and heat. The inventors claim that this process reduces the impact on your carbon footprint by up to 90% compared with cremation. Although it takes much longer. The waste fluid can be released into the sewer system, and the remaining skeletal structure will be processed to pure white powder with a pH more suitable for scattering in nature, although larger in quantity.

As the planet’s population continues to grow at a relentless pace, the disposal of our dead deserves serious consideration to balance the needs of tradition, religion, emotion and caring for the planet. 

Make your final journey as green as possible

Pure Cremation is the only UK funeral business that has put energy reduction and efficiency at the heart of its nationwide direct cremation business, performed a full carbon audit and established a programme to completely offset that carbon footprint.

But of course, you can rest assured that choosing a Pure Cremation means dignified and professional care while giving your family the freedom to choose how, when and where they will celebrate your life... as well as respecting the environment.

So, request a free guide today – you, your family and your planet could well thank you for it!