When we think about our carbon footprint, we don’t always think about the footprints we make after we die. After we die, most of us will be either buried in a cemetery or cremated. Neither option is great for the environment. For example, most bodies that are buried are embalmed, a process that uses harsh chemicals and produces toxic wastewater. Cremation is not more environmentally friendly. Every cremation uses almost 30 gallons of fuel and emits about as much carbon dioxide as is generated during a 600-mile car trip. A “green” funeral movement has brought innovations to how we handle human remains. One such innovation is called natural organic reduction, or NOR, a process by which human remains are composted. The process takes 30 to 60 days and each body produces several hundred pounds of soil, which is then given to loved ones. NOR costs about twice as much as cremation but about half the cost of a traditional cemetery burial. Only six states allow NOR: Washington, California, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, and New York. Massachusetts may be next. A bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature in 2022 languished in committee, but lawmakers plan to refile the bill in 2023. The Catholic Church opposes NOR on the grounds that it is not sufficiently respectful of human remains. But all bodies eventually decompose after death. If you have ever planned a burial, you may have been persuaded (like me) to purchase a waterproof vault and sturdy casket to protect your loved one’s body from the elements. In truth, none of these expensive add-ons will prevent the natural process of decomposition. NOR simply quickens the process so that it takes weeks instead of years. And, the act of using the soil produced by NOR to nurture new growth can be reverential and could even help survivors reconcile with their loss. Some people are opting to bury loved ones in biodegradable caskets in cemeteries that allow this, or even in their own backyards. While home burials are not legally prohibited in most states, local zoning and public health laws may make them impossible. Your choice of a final resting place is a deeply personal decision. Spend some time thinking about your wishes, and then tell your family about them. Let’s talk about dying.
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