Are burials and cremations polluting?
The only two types of funerals that are currently allowed in Belgium, namely burial and cremation, are relatively polluting processes. On the one hand, cremation uses a lot of fossil fuel, especially petrol, and rejects carbon dioxide as well as dioxins in the atmosphere. On the other hand, burials require a large amount of wood (in order to build the coffin) and the chemicals used for embalming end up infiltrating and polluting the soils. Moreover, cemeteries also have an impact on the environment.
What could be the alternative?
Of course, the favoured type of funerals remains a very personal choice, influenced by many factors. That is also the reason why some now wish to opt for more eco-friendly solutions. The following alternatives have been introduced in other countries but are still being studied in Belgium (and are therefore not yet allowed).
This process is based on composting methods: the body of the deceased person “genuinely” returns to nature as it is transformed in compost. Allegedly, the composting process takes about a year. The relatives of the deceased could then retrieve a symbolic part of it if they wish so. In Belgium, a pilot centre dedicated to humusation should be established in Nassogne (province of Luxemburg). Indeed, the use of such a method would require some technical adjustments as well as legal reviews.
Aquamation and Resomation
Both solutions, who would be easier to introduce, are based on water and an alkaline solution instead of fire, used for cremation. Nevertheless, for the relatives, the processes look very similar to cremation as they receive a funeral urn with the remains of the deceased. However, aquamation and resomation offer extra advantages: they consume far less energy and they do not reject polluting chemicals.
This method is made of several steps and consists in transforming the deceased’s body and the coffin in odourless and sterile dust. This powder (weighing approximately 25 to 30kg) is then put in a smaller and biodegradable coffin, ensuring quicker decomposition.
And in the meantime?
As explained earlier, such methods still need to be further studied to be allowed in Belgium. In the meantime, if you wish to have a more environmentally friendly funeral, you can already take small actions.
A “green coffin”
Over the last few years, funeral homes have tended to abandon traditional wood-made coffins and to adopt more eco-friendly ones. Moreover, in Wallonia, in the case of a burial, the coffin (both in the inside and the outside) must be made of natural and biodegradable materials. Besides, coffins made out of wicker or cardboard are now allowed to be used. One can thus opt for a coffin made out of wood (solid wood, not MDF wood), wicker, cardboard (that can even be decorated) or for a simple shroud, composed of 100% natural materials. Other creative alternatives are emerging, such as sugar cane or mushroom-based coffins.
A biodegradable urn
It is also possible to choose funeral urns made out of recycled wood, clay or plants instead of the traditional ones in marble or ceramic. Furthermore, if the urn is meant to be buried, it has to be biodegradable. You can also opt for a “tree urn”: it contains seeds that will grow into a tree thanks to the ashes, allowing for a very symbolic reincarnation.
A body prepared to return to nature
Finally, it is still possible to prepare the body in a more natural way. One may for example refuse embalming (which will most probably involve the coffin being closed during the funeral) or have the deceased dressed up in clothes made out of natural and biodegradable fabrics (cotton or linen rather than synthetic fabrics). Again, such choices are very personal. Therefore, if more eco-friendly funeral arrangements are an option to you, do not forget to keep a written record of it, for example via your Morning Blue Passport, so that your relatives will know about your wishes.