The environmental perspective…

Cremation has been used by many cultures for many hundreds of years and is the principal method of disposing of the dead in most densely populated countries and those whose primary religion is Hinduism or Buddhism. It has the advantage of not using up valuable cemetery space, which stretch the resources of local councils around the world, or expensive commercial cemetery space, as in the USA.

The slogan “Save the land for the living” helped to widely promote the social acceptability of cremation, and in 1963 the Pope lifted the ban on Roman Catholics being cremated.

However, it is essentially an unsustainable operation, for three major reasons:

~ it uses a lot of our finite fossil fuel reserves

~ it creates emissions which pollute the environment, including dioxins, and mercury. This is a particular problem with chipboard/MDF coffins as they contain high quantities of toxic glues, and the handles are invariably made of plastic.

~ from a permaculture perspective it also wastes the valuable resource of a body full of nutrients that could be utilised in improving soil fertility and growing trees.

There has been some resistance on the part of some crematorium managers to accept cardboard coffins, based on the concerns that they may burn too fast, endanger the operator, or fall apart beforehand! As has been found in the UK, these fears are ungrounded. All modern crematoria are well-equipped to load coffins into the cremator without endangering anyone, because the health and safety regulations require it. The coffins have a reinforced base, and the fact that they burn faster is an advantage, to the point where many British crematoria are now offering a discounted price to people who use coffins made of cardboard, wicker, willow, or other non-toxic materials. Some will cremate a body in a shroud or body bag if it is placed on a firm base with a solid end piece to enable the operator to push it into the cremator. This will, no doubt, become the norm in New Zealand too.