The embalming of the corpse is one of the main conservative treatments of corpses, exploited daily by funeral homes to preserve an intact and clean image of the deceased for the duration of the funeral ceremonies, eliminating for a certain period of time the process of decomposition. The procedures can be carried out using a variety of techniques and materials, from toxic and environmentally polluting products to natural and more eco-friendly substances and materials.
Embalming allows approaching the corpse before and during the funeral without health risks, since the body, in the hours following the death, undergoes a rapid biochemical transformation determining the release of organic liquids and generation of nauseating vapors, which make the wake more traumatic and potentially dangerous. The traditional funeral involves several substances and materials used for embalming or coffin construction that are responsible for environmental pollution. Traditional embalming treatment involves injecting 8 to 10 liters of formaldehyde and other chemical fluids into the arterial and lymphatic system to fix the tissues and thus slow down the process of decomposition by bacteria and cellular products. The main problem is that these chemicals lead to air pollution from particulate emissions during cremations, which adds to the pollution of soil and groundwater from the decomposition of coffins constructed of valuable materials and covered with toxic paints. But is there a solution that can make funerals and cemeteries more environmentally sustainable?
Green burial, unlike traditional burial, has the noble intent of achieving a return to simplicity and the pursuit of environmental sustainability. This method is based on the principle that a deceased person can be reintroduced into the cycle of nature and therefore life through a fusion with the earth and its plants. The body is neither cremated nor prepared with toxic chemical fluids but can be treated with essential oils, dry ice or ice packs (during the corpse transportation) and it’s simply placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud and buried without a concrete container. Coffins are made of natural, biodegradable materials such as wicker, banana leaf or bamboo, wool, and cardboard; in addition to coffins, biodegradable urns made of bio-plastic are also widely used. Inside are placed plant seeds and soil and as the water infiltrates and the wood or the biodegradable material decomposes, the plant will be able to grow and flourish, nourished by the human remains in the coffin or shroud. Another method concerns the transformation of the human body into fertilizer to grow a tree chosen by the family or even by the deceased himself. People who chose a green funeral help solving two main problems: clutter and pollution of cemetery grounds. The advantages also concern the lower cost for the relatives (with a saving of up to 30%), the need for less maintenance of the cemetery but especially the elimination of toxic products such as formaldehyde, which is irritant and carcinogenic to the airways.