At Furman, in politics, and on the news, we often hear about what it means to live sustainably. From dietary choices to means of transportation, the daily lives of Americans have a direct and significant impact on the environment. However, what if we took living sustainably a step further? How can humans be sustainable not only when we’re alive, but when we’re six feet under?
It’s an uncomfortable topic, but, nevertheless, a thought-provoking one. Consider all that is buried with a body, including steel, copper, and bronze from caskets; metal jewelry; and embalming fluid. It is a bit disconcerting to consider the negative impact of one’s burial on the environment, especially for those who have committed themselves to acting sustainably during their lifetimes. However, for the environmentally conscious, there exists an option for being buried sustainably. The Natural Burial Cooperative lists 14 “natural burial preserves” in the United States, located across the nation from California to Florida to Maine. Here is an excerpt from the NBC website which explains the basic concepts of a natural burial:
“A modern natural burial is an environmentally sustainable alternative to existing funeral practices where the body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally and be recycled into new life.
The body is prepared for burial without chemical preservatives and is buried in a simple shroud or biodegradable casket that might be made from locally harvested wood, wicker or even recycled paper, perhaps even decorated with good-bye messages from friends.
A natural burial ground often uses grave markers that don’t intrude on the landscape. These natural markers can include shrubs and trees, an engraved flat stone native to the area or centralized memorial structure set within the emerging forest that provides places for visitors to sit. As in all cemeteries, there are careful records kept of the exact location of each interment, often using modern survey techniques such as GIS (geographic information system).”
The Natural Burial Cooperative also provides interesting and startling statistics about the negative impacts that traditional burials and cremation have on both the environment and the economy. I challenge you to research natural burials further, considering the harmful effects that your body could have on the environment even beyond your living existence.