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Dying Lightly

By Lauriston Muirhead, WATCH (Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health)

Do not read on if you are a bit sensitive and don’t want to think about disposing of bodies! 

As if life was not complicated enough, death also requires decisions by us or our next of kin in terms of our bodies.

Should we take up good land with burial or create atmospheric pollution through cremation? Not to mention adding mercury to the soil or air from the amalgam fillings in our teeth! 

When we die there are four basic options for disposing of our bodies: air, water, earth or fire.  Sadly there are now too many of us to decently use the two lowest energy options; air and water.

Many past indigenous cultures left their dead to scavenging birds and beasts although “sky burial” is still practiced in a remote part of Tibet much to the resident vultures delight.

Burial at sea is rare in Australia but a company in Merimbula NSW has carried out a few each year.

That leaves fire or earth.  Slightly more than half of us opt for cremation compared with burial.  Comparing the environmental credentials of each is very complex.  In both cases a perfectly good coffin is usually completely destroyed for no good reason.  Cremation uses up a great deal of fossil fuel (usually natural gas) in a couple of hours.  However a cemetery takes up a lot of land and graves are dug by a diesel fuelled digger and what about all that pollution a mower could produce mowing the grass around your grave for the next 100 years?!

Tony Dupleix of Western Victoria has developed a more environmentally friendly (and less expensive) burial option with his Upright Burials (in a shroud not a coffin). He will also plant a tree for each burial.

A potentially exciting body disposal method called alkaline hydrolysis or resomation (commercially known as Aquamation) where hot sodium hydroxide solution dissolves soft tissue and the bones are dried, crushed and made available in an urn – (as with cremation) is now available in Queensland. Costs are similar to cremation but it is claimed to produce less greenhouse gas.  The alkaline liquid waste is neutralised and could potentially be put on trees or a flower garden. Again there is no wasted coffin, only the dissolving of a silk shroud.

Many thanks to Rodney Claxton – Cemetery Team Leader of AlburyCity Council – for technical advice.