What is it? Maybe you’ve always been an environmentalist, or maybe you’re a minimalist at heart who wants to shun excess in favor of something simple and green. Whatever your motivation, you’re interested in at least considering an environmentally friendly cremation. Be sure to check out my other articles in this series too, Why Choose Eco-Friendly Final Arrangements? and Eco-Friendly Burial Arrangements. Although cremation isn’t 100% eco-friendly as a fair amount of carbon dioxide is released during cremation, it can be made eco-friendlier.
What should I be aware of? At the end of the day, if you want to prioritize eco-friendliness, then you want to think about your choice’s carbon footprint, its materials, and its logistics. Having a small total carbon footprint is good - think about the manufacturing and/or shipping involved. You don’t want something that is difficult to manufacture being shipped from far away. Using easily biodegradable materials is good. And choosing something that is actually available in your area and fits in the space you have (i.e. your cremation unit of choice) is good. What follows are some options. Many of the options below allow one to leave a message inside.
Biodegradable Urns - This is an urn that you can bury, assuming it is legal to do so. Generally, in North America, it is illegal to bury cremated remains anywhere outside of a cemetery.
Seed Urns - There are several commercially available urns designed to be buried with either seeds or tree saplings. The ashes go inside a biodegradable container (usually tube or egg shaped) and the baby plant is planted on top, to be nourished by the remains. Although this option sounds simple, given cremated remains have a pH that is too high to support plant growth, some seed urns come with organic material or soil that attempt to neutralize this problem. Cemetery by-laws may not allow the baby plant that comes with the urn to be planted on the premises - check with your cemetery. Additionally, the new plant will be an ongoing maintenance issue for any cemetery. Make sure your baby plant is not an invasive species. Placing the seed urn in a planter and growing the baby plant at home may be a preferable alternative.
Paper Urns or Fiber Urns - These urns can be made of unbleached paper, e.g. recycled paper, or unbleached fabric, e.g. recycled fabric or hemp, or sand and gelatin, or even cornstarch. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to shape - these can be in the shape of boxes, tubes, hearts, flowers, shells, fish, envelopes, etc. Frequently, the remains themselves will rest inside a biodegradable bag within the urn.
Floating Urns - Some urns are designed to float and dissolve in water. The shape of a water urn can be almost anything. That being said, the most commonly found options for purchase online are shells, turtles, and flowers.
Rock Salt Urns - You could bury these in earth, or allow them to sink and be buried in water (they will dissolve over time underwater). Note that these are designed for burial, not long-term display, as the salt will break down over time due to moisture in the air.
Plain Wood Urns - As with eco-friendly wood caskets, eco-friendly wood urns should be made with no metal, blue, or varnish. The wood should not be exotic and should be sustainably sourced.
Eternal Reef - This is perhaps the hardest to explain - a company such as Eternal Reefs places your remains inside a cement ball that then becomes a habitat for marine life (e.g. fish).
If I want this, what do I do next? You should include your wishes as part of your estate plan. This will spare your loved ones the agony of trying to guess what you would’ve wanted. Do your research so you know what options are readily and legally available in your area. And make sure that, if you have a specific crematorium in mind, they will accept your chosen option.