As I prepare to see Avengers Endgame this weekend, I find myself reflecting on the last movie and the way so many died in Infinity War. As I recall half of the population turning to dust, I remember the phrase we hear at funerals, “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.” Then my eternal optimist tendencies kick in and I think, “At least Thanos was eco-friendly,” to which my public health brain immediately adds “Are we being eco-friendly with our deceased loved ones?” While, this admittedly provides insight into the strangeness of my brain, this is a topic we really should speak about more.
As it turns out, no we’re not eco-friendly. We’re polluting the environment with our dead. In America alone, we’re burying 20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concreted, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of copper and steel along with our loved ones. These embalming fluids can seep into the ground, and the plots themselves take up lots of room which is increasing land shortages in urban areas. While cremation may be slightly more eco-friendly it still releases chemicals like carbon dioxide and mercury into the air, and uses enough fuel to fill a Toyata RAV4’s tank twice.
Luckily, there is an emerging market in green funerals. With these burials, the deceased are placed in the ground without any preservatives and little or no additional coverings. While this may bring up concerns about polluting ground water, the World Health Organization states that it is safe as long as the person is buried at least 820 feet away from a drinking water supply, 100 feet away from a body of water, 1 meter above the water table and 1 meter below the earth’s surface. If you’re concerned about laws, no state requires embalming, and most will allow burial without a shroud.
So there you have it, you can be just as eco-friendly as Thanos if you’d like.