Karina Tsui
Karina Tsui
Feb 16, 2023, 11:54am EST

What are green funerals and why are they on the rise?


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The News

From designating woodland burial sites, replacing metal caskets with biodegradable coffins, composting human remains, and “cremating” bodies in water — people around the world are exploring more environmentally friendly, cost effective, and space-saving ways to bury the dead.

These methods are part of a growing trend of green funerals. Here’s what to know.

The Hong Kong Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
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The Facts

  • Traditional funerals and cremation methods use an estimated 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid and 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, according to a 2022 report by Emergen Research.
  • The global green funerals market was valued at more than $570 million in 2021.
  • The market is expected to register a compound annual growth rate of 8.7% between 2022 and 2030.
  • Human composting accounted for the largest share in the green funerals market in 2021.
  • Nearly 54% of Americans said they would consider having a green funeral, according to a 2018 survey.
  • Europe had 270 natural burial grounds as of 2021.
  • Asia Pacific accounted for the largest share of revenue in the green funerals market in 2021.
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The View From the U.S.

In the U.S, human composting is one of the most popular types of green burial methods. Now legal in six states including New York and Colorado, human composting involves placing the body in a steel box on a bed of wood chips and flowers. After 60 days, the body is decomposed into soil and used as fertilizer.

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The View From Canada

Aquamation, otherwise known as water cremation, has been introduced in at least four states across Canada. According to CBC, a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide is heated in a large stainless steel cylinder for up to 18 hours. Afterwards, the mixture is used to dissolve all the body’s tissues.

While the method is arguably more environmentally friendly than traditional burials and cremations, experts and government officials have questioned the practice’s utility as the procedure requires specific machinery and uses 1,300 liters of water.

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The View From The Church of England

Earlier this month, the Church of England's General Synod brought up the matter of considering more environmental-friendly methods of disposing dead bodies — taking into consideration the “theological, practical and pastoral issues,” the Guardian reported.

The discussion took place in light of the archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu’s request to have his remains dissolved by aquamation, which sparked controversy among the church’s legislative body.

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The View From the Netherlands

Onora, a startup based in the Netherlands, created a casket made out of 100% biodegradable materials that can dissolve in the ground after 10 years. Made out of bioplastic and a PLA-based polymer, the casket has a 50% reduced environmental impact, according to Emergen Research.

Coffins made out of bioplastic have increasingly been offered in funeral homes, though they may cost more.

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The View From Hong Kong

Hong Kong is running out of space to bury the dead. And as a place with an aging population, the government has launched a campaign encouraging people to consider green funerals.

The city’s Food and Environmental Hygiene department designated 13 plots of land as “Gardens of Remembrance” where loved ones can take the ashes of the deceased and use them to plant trees. The government also offers free services to help Hong Kongers disperse ashes in the sea.