Zero Waste: Sustainable Death

Zero Waste: Sustainable Death by Sigrilina -- Halloween and the Day of the Dead, el día de los muertos, are around the corner so I decided to do a related blog post. Nowadays Halloween is more about wearing costumes and trick-or-treating, that’s why I like the Day of the Dead. As you may know it is a holiday made to remember and honor the ancestors.

Halloween and the Day of the Dead, el día de los muertos, are around the corner so I decided to do a related blog post. Nowadays Halloween is more about wearing costumes and trick-or-treating, that’s why I like the Day of the Dead. As you may know it is a holiday made to remember and honor the ancestors. I think it is special because it suppresses the western taboo concerning death. Family gathers to remember the deceased and to celebrate life. It is also extremely colorful, in Western culture mourning is associated with black whereas the Mexican celebration is precisely that, a celebration. The traditional flower is the Mexican Marigold, a pretty orange flower, and décor made with paper, papel picado, is made in vivid colors. I know that many non-Western cultures have ceremonies to remember the ancestors but being Latin American I find it closer to home.

Now let’s help remove the taboo concerning death and let’s have the talk. I have had the conversation with my husband even before we were married. I know that not every thing on this list will be available to you, but you can make a better choice if you are informed.

First of all, modern cemeteries occupy large areas of cultivable land. I couldn’t find precise data but any person that has ever been to a cemetery knows that they are usually big. Another thing that bugs me about being buried is that you are renting a lot and then when your family stops paying they will just remove the remains and put someone new or as movies show, build condos. If you really think about it, coffins were made to preserve the corpse in good condition for as long as possible. What for? Is not like they are coming back, or at least, zombies shouldn’t be encouraged.

Now let’s have a look at some alternatives. Cremation is the most evident, or at least the second most popular. Yet, some people think that it is not good enough because of the mercury that is released to the atmosphere. On a 2010 study on global mercury emissions to the atmosphere from anthropogenic and natural sources (see here) the researchers found out that:

On an annual basis, natural sources account for 5207 Mg of mercury released to the global atmosphere, including the contribution from re-emission processes, which are emissions of previously deposited mercury originating from anthropogenic and natural sources, and primary emissions from natural reservoirs. Anthropogenic sources, which include a large number of industrial point sources, are estimated to account for 2320 Mg of mercury emitted annually. The major contributions are from fossil-fuel fired power plants (810 Mg/yr), artisanal small scale gold mining (400 Mg/yr), non-ferrous metals manufacturing (310 Mg/yr), cement production (236 Mg/yr), waste disposal (187 Mg/yr) and caustic soda production (163 Mg/yr)

I have the feeling, certainty, that most people attack other people for not doing enough as individuals but will willingly overlook corporate responsibility, as this example clearly shows. Cremation is not even in the top 10 sources of mercury but it is attacked as if it was the top one while the actual top 10, originated from industrial processes, are ignored. What I mean is stop shaming people for doing their best specially while buying products that are way worse and supporting corrupt companies. Just because you ignore how a product was made it doesn’t mean is sustainable. Promession (see here) is a less contaminating alternative but it is not available in some places, so in the meanwhile here are some possibilities.

Helping our Oceans: The Neptune Memorial Reef (see here). You could be part of the largest man-made reef, every angle and texture was engineered by a marine biologist to support marine life. It is beautiful indeed and according to their site, though they don’t quote sources, marine life has increased in the zone. Eternal Reef (see here) are kind of the same without the whole city idea and you can include your pet ashes. Another positive point is that they have more locations.

Offsetting Carbon even after death: Instead of cutting a tree to make a casket, what about nourishing one? Capsula Mundi (see here) is an urn made to place the ashes and be buried like a seed to biodegrade. They recommend planting a tree on top of it to remember the dead. Wouldn’t it be great to have a little forest of ancestors instead of cement. Also they ship worldwide. Bio Urn Tree (see here) is a cheaper option that already includes a tree seed, they have a variety of biodegradable-urns.

If I haven’t persuade you and you do want to go for a burial, pick a natural burial. White Eagle Memorial Cemetery (see here) is just one of the options, but the idea is that the dead body should follow its natural course and decompose into earth. You can pick a non-varnished casket or a shroud but always remember to choose materials that will biodegrade. If you are obsessed about having or leaving a keepsake, resort to turning the ashes into a diamond (see here), expensive but shiny. As with most things remember to check if the company is a serious one and better if it is certified. Since you have to send them the ashes I think it could be a worldwide option.

I would like to close this post with a call to action. We usually avoid the conversation about death because we believe that we are somehow summoning it by naming it. Let’s have the talk, let’s know what our beloved ones want and let’s make them know what we want. Every single choice we make is creating the future, so choose wisely.