Inventive green solutions offer environmentally friendly burial alternatives

A business in Smiths Falls, Ont., that uses a high-pressure caustic solution to dissolve human remains — and then discharges that fluid into the town's sewer system — is the latest initiative to find a more environmentally friendly way to handle the bodies of the deceased.

Companies and consumers seek eco-friendly ways to handle bodies of deceased

A lapel badge at an April 2001 Day for the Dead event in London expresses the desire for a simple return to the Earth. The event was an early reflection of a growing demand for environmentally sound funerals. (Sion Touhig/Getty Images)

A business in Smiths Falls, Ont., that uses a high-pressure caustic solution to dissolve human remains — and then discharges that fluid into the town's sewer system — is the latest initiative by companies and consumers to find a more environmentally friendly way to handle the bodies of the deceased.

"It brings your body back to its natural state," owner Dale Hilton told CBC News. "It's the same way as being buried in the ground, but instead of taking 15, 20 years to disintegrate, it does it in a quicker process. And it's all environmentally friendly."

Liquid waste from Dale Hilton's 'green funeral' business is disposed into the town's sewer system, while powdered remains are returned to the loved one's family. (Stu Mills/CBC)

So-called green cremations made their way into Canada from the U.S. several years ago, first in Saskatchewan, and were also recently approved in Quebec. 

Here are a few environmentally benign approaches from around the world.

The tree of life and death

Italian designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel have kicked off a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Capsula Mundi, a project that would bury ashes or corpses in large, biodegradable egg-shaped pods underneath a tree.

"As tree after tree is planted, the cemetery will become a forest," reads the Kickstarter campaign.

"Capsula Mundi has a low environmental impact because [the pods are] made of a sustainable material, coming from seasonal plants, and it adds green spaces to our planet."

Denman Island Natural Burial Cemetery

A cemetery on B.C.'s Denman Island opened in October with the goal of minimizing any environmental damage from the burial process: no non-biodegradable coffins, no embalming fluids, no concrete tombs, not even a tombstone.

Work to create the Denman Island Natural Burial Cemetery began in 2009, when the island's existing cemetery, dating back to 1904, ran out of space.

Louise Bell of the Denman Island Memorial Society said families who bury a loved one there won't be able to visit the burial location once the body has been interred. That's to allow the forest a chance to grow back, over and around the deceased, undisturbed.

The newly created Denman Island Natural Burial Cemetery is the first exclusively green cemetery in Canada. (Submitted by Louise Bell)

Biodegradable urns

The eco-friendly Bios Urn, created by Spanish designers Martin Azua and Gerard Moline, is a biodegradable urn made from coconut shells, compacted peat and cellulose. Inside the urn is a seed.

Cremated human remains are placed into the urn alongside the seed and buried. 

As a good source of phosphorous, human remains help to fertilize the seed, which will eventually germinate and grow into a tree.

Depending on where you would like to be planted after death, various choices of trees or plants are available to grow from your remains.

Re-use and recycle

Some university graduates donate a lot of money to their school, but others literally give themselves to science and medical programs for educational or research purposes. 

"Students preparing themselves for careers in medicine, dentistry and related professions are fully aware of the special privilege granted to them and the obligation they have to conduct themselves in a professional manner during their training," reads a statement on the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia website.

"People who donate their bodies to the medical school can be assured that all human remains are accorded the dignity and respect that our society customarily grants the dead."

In Ontario, whole bodies can be donated to various schools of anatomy in the province, but can be rejected by universities if they've been embalmed, amputated, undergone an autopsy or died of infectious disease.

Remains are "respectfully cremated," interred at the school or returned to family upon request.

Students take part in a ceremony to pay respect to donated cadavers used for training and research at the Anatomy Lab of Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. (Department of Anatomy at Chulalongkorn University via Getty Images)