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Breaking the Taboo: The Push for More Options in Death and Dying

Death and dying has been a very taboo thing that many of us don't like talking about. The last few years have seen a wave of fresh choices popping up for managing life's final chapter and organizing goodbyes. It's argued that traditional funerals don't really reflect the diverse and evolving needs of today. People want more control over how they die and what happens after. Have you noticed? There's an ongoing push to broaden our horizons in dealing with death - transforming not just practices but also attitudes toward that inevitable last step.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association in 2021 approximately 57.5% of burials in the United States are cremation compared to the 36.6% which choose more traditional burial. This trend will continue as they estimate that by the year 2040 that cremation rate will increase to over 70%. Many factors are in play as to why cremation is chosen over traditional burial which include cost, environmental impact, religious beliefs, and more.

But what many may not know, there is also a growing trend to have even more alternative methods available as well. Options like Green Burial, Alkaline Hydrolysis, and turning ourselves into compost are on the table.

Green Burial

If you are unaware of what Green Burial or also called natural burial is a type of funeral that prioritizes environmental sustainability and simplicity. It typically involves burying the deceased without embalming or the use of a traditional casket, instead using biodegradable materials such as a shroud, a simple wooden coffin, or even a whicker basket such as this available casket from  Passages International
Seagrass Casket which is like a whicker basket used in green burial

Supporters of green burial argue that it is a more natural and an eco-friendly way to approach death, and that it can help to reduce the carbon footprint of a traditional funeral. Nowadays, opting for something that aligns with eco-friendly values even in death has caught on. Minimizing environmental harm is at its heart.

Where Is Green Burial Legal?

Natural burial is allowed in the United States but each state has differing laws on certain requirements such as the location, burial depth, etc. You can get some information about green burial by state here. It is best to research and find out what your state requires if you are making preparations or assisting someone else with their end of life care. 

Alkaline Hydrolysis 

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as water cremation or aquamation, is an alternative to traditional cremation that is growing in popularity. In alkaline hydrolysis, the body is placed in a special machine that uses a combination of water, heat, and alkaline chemicals to dissolve the body and reduce it to liquid remains. After putting in a good couple of hours, what you end up with is this pure liquid that can be tossed out easily and safely by choosing from different options. Let me tell you why some folks are all in on alkaline hydrolysis—it ditches those heavy carbon footprints by avoiding fossil fuel burns and pumps out way less greenhouse gas compared to regular cremations. Many people are drawn to water cremation over traditional methods, feeling it's a softer, less harsh way of saying goodbye. However, alkaline hydrolysis is not yet legal in all states and countries.

With this method once the process has been completed the bones are put into a cremulator and is what is given to the family after. These remains can be placed inside of an urn, or a small portion can be put into cremation jewelry so many members of the family can have your loved one with you.

Where is Water Cremation Legal?

Currently as of this post these are the only states where Alkaline Hydrolysis is not legal:

  • Alaska

  • Arkansas

  • Delaware

  • Indiana

  • Iowa

  • Louisiana

  • Mississippi

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • New Hampshire

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • New York

  • Ohio

  • Rhode Island

  • South Carolina

Human Composting

A person holding compost. In some states human composting is now legal

Human composting, also known as natural organic reduction, is a new approach to end-of-life care that involves converting human remains into soil through a natural decomposition process. Now picture placing someone in a container surrounded by things you'd find on a farm – think wood chips, straw, and alfalfa. It sounds simple but these elements are superstars at accelerating how fast decomposition occurs.

Give it some time—weeks at most—and we go back to nature. Our bodies break apart and enrich the soil so something else can bloom from us. Supporters of human composting argue that it is a more eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to traditional burial and cremation, as it produces no greenhouse gas emissions and returns the body to the earth in a natural way.

Additionally, some people find the idea of becoming part of the cycle of life and growth after death to be comforting and meaningful. Human composting is already legal in some states, and it's expected to become more widely available in the future.

Where is Human Composting Legal?

As of this posting the states that allow human composting are: 

  • California

  • Colorado

  • New York

  • Vermont

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to explore new and more sustainable approaches to death and dying. Alternative methods such as green burial, alkaline hydrolysis, and human composting are emerging as viable options for those seeking a more environmentally friendly and personal approach to end-of-life care. While traditional funeral practices may still be the norm for many, the popularity of these new approaches is a testament to the changing attitudes towards death and the growing awareness of our impact on the planet. As more people seek to reduce their carbon footprint and leave a positive legacy, the adoption of these innovative methods is likely to continue to grow. Ultimately, the push for more options in death and dying is about giving people greater control over their final journey, and creating a more sustainable and compassionate approach to end-of-life care. 

 

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