Eco-friendly Funerals

From the viewpoint of an engineer, sustainability via fuel conservation and preserving natural resources are significant matters at the end of life of all machines. So why do human burials tend to be treated so differently?  A single cremation uses as much fuel as a car driving for 4800 miles, and releases polluting chemicals into the atmosphere, including Carbon Dioxide, mercury and dioxin. Typical burials use up plenty of wood, concrete and plastic only for the sake of shielding a body from the surrounding ground, attempting to slow down the natural cycle of decay. Such materials take many years to decay and can leave behind toxic residue. A body drained of blood is typically filled with environmentally harmful chemicals, including formaldehyde and phenol for preservation purposes.

The above practices are unlikely to stop any time soon as cultural beliefs prevail over environmental concerns. However, with time, perhaps more eco-friendly methods of corpse disposal will become more popular. Currently such methods, although used relatively rarely, include switching to embalming fluids made up of natural oils or forgoing embalming altogether by choosing a rapid burial shortly after death and using biodegradable caskets or burlap sacks instead of the usual coffins. Another method is "green cremation" (alkaline hydrolysis), which involves the use of a pressurised metal chamber and chemicals rather than standard burning via oxidation. Although the process uses up a vast quantity of water, it saves much energy when compared to a standard cremation. Furthermore, an interestimg way of turning a corpse into compost material has been developed. The process typically takes 6-12 months and it involves freezing the corpse and submerging it in liquid nitrogen. Once the material is brittle enough, it is bombarded with sound waves, which cause it to break down into powder. The powder is then placed in a vacuum chamber, which evaporates all water. The powder makes a great fertiliser for trees and garden plants.


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