The Sustainable Death Movement

Dying to know might be an overstatement, but if you’ve ever thought about leaving legacy of sustainability, you’re probably curious to know about the environmental impacts of the funeral industry growing popularity of natural burials.

Whatever comes after this life isn’t a topic that we usually dwell on, but the creativity of the 21st century in facing the practical challenges death creates – in terms of sustainability – is worth a more than a passing thought.

Conventional burial services in Australia are often environmentally destructive with impacts that are harmful to the ecosystem.

This is partially due to the idea that when we die… we aren’t alone. Along with our bodies numerous amounts of materials such as copper, steel, timber, plastic, fiberglass buries itself along side us.

A “full service” that contains a casket, vault, tombstone and flower wreath has a rather large environmental impact. Within 10 acres of cemetery there is over 1,000 tonnes of casket steel buried, 20,000 tonnes of concrete for vaults and enough wood to build more than 40 homes.

A popular alternative to a burial ritual is cremation after death, which adds more to your carbon footprint.

Cremation has its own environmental issues. Burning a body might save all the paraphernalia of burial from being permanently interred in the ground but releases greenhouse gases into the air along with other chemicals, dioxins, and vaporised mercury.

The issue of leaving your body with ‘no trace left behind’ doesn’t seem like such a bad idea for some people, and advocates for a green or natural burial want to make death a more natural part of the life cycle.

Why are natural burials on the increase?

Natural burials are becoming widely available as more people are becoming more ecologically-minded.

In many ways consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious in their daily lives from their, caffeine vessel of choice to shopping bag alternatives – why would their final moments be any different?

Innovative thinkers have been coming up with burial designs to make the dying process less of a burden in its pollution, litter and energy use



We’ve compiled some of the choices available here – some enterprising, some downright weird!


  • French designers Enzo Pascual and Pierre Riviere focused on ‘nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed’ with making a cemetery a reservoir of life- EMERGENCE. The two part concept uses an underground biodegradable vessel embedded with tree seedlings to take root as the casket decomposes. Who wouldn’t want to come back as a tree?
  • Converting you into a tree after life is also Bios’s motto for their biodegradable urn. For those who still prefer the idea of cremation, the biodegradable urn turns a person’s (or pet’s) ashes into a tree as a means to return to life through nature.
  • Alternatives forms of disposition and cremation have been sprouting as well: Forget cryogenic freezing, promession  was developed by Swedish soil scientists Susanne Wiigh-Masak. The idea is a freeze-dry system for the body that occurs immediately after death. The moisture is evaporated off, non-degradables sifted out, and what is left is dry, nutrient-dense substance that is suitable for burial and return to the ecosystem.
  • Similar to promession is a bio cremation process called alkaline hydrolysis, which is a body reduction technique that uses water and heat to create a biological residue that is liquid form.

If you’re still thinking about a traditional burial, but like the idea of minimising your footprint, there are a number of ways you can mitigate the environmental impact of your burial.


  • Swapping non-biodegradable caskets for a shroud wrap helps bodies become nourishment for plants and microorganisms- a natural burial allows for the body to return to the soil without barriers or vaults in the way.
  •  Choose a biodegradable casket or burial shroud- Purchasing biodegradable wood or wicker caskets are a great option as they bread down easier in the natural environment.
  • Find flower alternatives- Instead of using cut flowers ask for organic flowers in season from a farmers market and make donations to an eco-minded charity of your choosing.
  • Get your friends and family on board- Let them know your plans. Let them know if you want to pick a container that doesn’t use synthetic materials, and any of your wishes.

There is no right or one way to decide your final resting point, but it’s a great thought to think your last moments were environmentally friendly ones.

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