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Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

  • Environment

Meaning: We come from dust; we return to dust.

Except we don't really, do we? Sure, people who get cremated turn back to ash, but that's hardly environmentally friendly. The act of cremation is an energy inefficient CO2 spewing act - the last chance for members of our modern society to pollute this world. You might think that a traditional burial might be better, but people who get buried do not return to that from which we came in at many levels. Your body is embalmed (preserved) and placed in a coffin that typically takes a very long time to decompose. It's unlikely your body will be returned to the soil before your grave site is upturned to add another body, unless someone is nice enough to pay for another 100-year lease.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel to an environmentally friendly light at the end of the tunnel. Erm.

Natural burials are, as you'd imagine, natural. The way they were done way back when your great-great-grandmother wasn't even a twinkle in her mother's eye. You're not embalmed. You're not placed in a coffin. You're not buried in a cemetery.

Instead, you're placed in a shroud that biodegrades very easily. You're buried in a plot in a forest - a bush cemetery if you will. Sometimes you're buried near trees, sometimes a tree is planted on top of you. Your body will start returning to the earth very quickly.

I for one will be rewriting my Will to ask that my body be disposed of in the most environmentally conscious way possible. That might mean a bush burial, or perhaps some better alternatives will be available when I die.

Would you do this? If not, why not? I can't see any negative with this approach, but would love to hear your thoughts.


Wikipedia has an entry for it:

For more, search google for: natural burial then search for: natural burials Lots of very inspiring ideas.

First time I heard about this was in a book called: "Go Mad! 365 Daily Ways To Save The Planet". A little gem of a book if you live in the UK :) And last I heard was when I received the Permablitz newsletter about the site in New Zealand :)

Tassja and I have discussed this at length, and our point of wondering is in how ecologically friendly our bodies are when they decompose. I know with some burial sites, groundwater has been contaminated due to the toxins released by bodies due to what people consume and what the body stores along the way.

I'd love to see the point resolved, because if the human body is inherently toxic, I'm not sure there's an ecologically sound way of disposing of it. Perhaps we just have to accept that there's always going to be some kind of trade-off?

(As an aside, there are quite a few woodland burial sites springing up in the UK now. I'm very interested to see how this thread pans out).

Hi T, J & N! That's a very good point - I hadn't thought of that... I'll see if I can find out any more info.

P.S. I haven't seen any pics of Nathan for a few moths - any updates?

Hiya Ben :o)

There was a news article on the bbc site which I saw back in 2004, I'm very interested in the method described there. Might solve the problem with the toxins released from the body.

As for pics of Nathan, we do have loads of them, I've just not updated the wisemantribe gallery or flickr in a while. Though I will upload some more to flickr today :o)

Hiya! I just had a read of the BBC page, and it seems the freeze-drying process is an alternative to embalming, and that the embalming fluid is the toxin. I've also done a little searching for other toxins that bodies release after burial, and most results again just point to embalming fluid.

If that's the case, I'd still opt for a natural burial, no embalming fluid, and no need to waste liquid nitrogen. Of course my research is nothing close to comprehensive. I'll keep looking ;-)

I remember reading a science journal years ago about how the pollution of ground water by bacteria in decomposing bodies (not embalmed) got into the ground water and then into the wells (yup some people in the uk still have wells). As a result people who drank the water got sick and some children died. I remember being really shocked by the fact that the dead really can hurt you.

I'll have a dig around and see if I can find the report on it.

Just came across this (should really be in a meeting now, but they're late :P)

which gives the main risk factor as the height of the water table. Presumably if you bury high enough in the ground, and the water table under usual circumstances is low down enough, even in high-saturation conditions, the body shouldn't contaminate the water...

Not had time to read the whole thing. Interesting, though ;o)

Atleast cremation does not block the land for centuries with haunted feelings and not usable for agriculture. Cremation does not leave any trail for people to remember their past and moan upon it cuts the relation clean and people have to move on.

Hi Andy! Thanks for your comment. I have to say I disagree with what I assume are your two points:

1. Haunted feelings and cutting relationships clean: Cremation doesn't, in my opinion, cut relationships. You can still look out to sea where the ashes were scattered, or contemplate memories while looking at the urn in which they lie. Either way, feelings bear no relationship to the environmental effects.

2. Making land useless for agricultural purposes: I'm not sure how many farmers cultivate forested land. I would imagine those that do have additional problems to contend with such as lack of direct sunlight and difficulty in protecting crop from native animals.

I appreciate your contribution, but I'm afraid I don't understand it. If I've misunderstood you, please let me know.

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