CRAZY WEDNESDAY: GREEN TO THE VERY END

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Green funerals are not particularly new, and although options include biodegradable coffins or woodland burials, most still rely on either burial or cremation by fairly traditional means. However, there is another method, pioneered by Swedish scientist, Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak. Featured in a round-up of some eco-friendly funeral options on InventorSpot, Wiigh-Mäsak’s “promession” has to be the most innovative.

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The process involves treating the body with liquid nitrogen to make it brittle, and then vibrating it into a fine powder. The pulverised residue is then freeze-dried to sterilize it, and metals are extracted from the powder before it is placed in a starch-based biodegradable casket, and buried in topsoil. All this is illustrated in a slightly odd video, to the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.

Don’t expect this to be a choice in the near future, though. The disposal of bodies is governed by law, and in the UK the only current methods that are legal are cremation and traditional, deep burial. I was fascinated whilst reading the information on the Promessa Foundation website how un-green these methods are. Cremation, in particular, in which the casket and corpse are heated to 800 Celsius, uses over 20 litres of fuel oil. After an hour’s burning, the ashes still have to be ground to a powder, and the flue has to be cleaned with half a kilogram of activated charcoal. Even after all this, the mercury emissions are significant. The Swedish National Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one third of Sweden’s mercury emissions come from the 73 crematoria.

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There are those lobbying for a change in the law so that promession can be an option. The UK’s Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council is one such organisation, and its information page on funeral options has a lot of information about promession, and its legal progress as an alternative in the UK. Earlier this year, a petition was submitted to the Downing Street website, asking for a change in the law to allow promession. Another supporter is the American author, Mary Roach, who met Wiigh-Mäsak several times while researching her book, “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”.

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Having recently attended a green burial, I’m interested in the different choices people make. We are powerless to stop death, and choosing what happens afterwards is one of the few controls we have in the process. If we feel strongly about something, like the environment, say, then being able to choose a memorial that is in keeping seems like something that is both important for the person who is dying, and a comfort to those left behind.

Amanda

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