Where to Hide the Bodies?

Photo by Lydia Selk

With folk looking to lessen their impact on the environment, the subject of burial has popped up. It makes for a very interesting discussion.

In Oz, cremation is used for 90% of burials. That is a total turnaround from the early 1900’s when it was very rare not to be buried “6 feet under“. When cremation was first discussed most folk were horrified by the thought of being burnt. Now, the idea of being eaten by worms seems to be regarded as horrific. The “worms” description is a misnomer in any case. With modern caskets and the actual depth of burial, it is difficult for nature to take its course.

Some new thinking on the matter could give rise to several choices.

The carbon generated by a cremation is rated at 160 kilos. The carbon generated by a straight burial, on the day, is rated at a mere 39 kilos. On the face of it, cremation looks to have lost the carbon imprint battle. Perhaps not. The key here is the “on the day” qualifier. After cremation there are generally no ongoing costs, while traditional burials have maintenance issues. Mowing the lawns, for example. Add to this argument the new idea of the grave returning to the cemetery for re-use and the calculations get very complicated.

I wonder how they came at the 160 kilo figure for a cremation? I don’t know if that figure is what the body produces or of it includes the furnace process as well. Perhaps a body could be atomized by a solar panel on a hot day for a more carbon friendly exit?

There is also the idea of being buried shallowly in a shroud with a tree growing from the remains. This offers the environment the chance of re-using one’s body in a much quicker time frame. Aesthetically, this may find some favour but is it truly better for the environment? By their very nature cemeteries are a bush setting. They are miles out of town. So every visit not made by bicycle or foot carries a carbon cost. How would the cost work out here? What would happen if a bush fire swept through? Would the price of internment cover replacement of trees lost through an act of God?

The best carbon outcome may be to have the doctors remove the bits they need for the living, then send the rest of the body home for a shallow burial down behind the shed. Fruit trees or consumable plants could be planted over top. Aside from breaking goodness knows how many by-laws, this sounds like a marginal improvement on what they did in the Good Ol’ Days as well as a big improvement on recent common practice.

I look forward to seeing the new options discussed, as well as the calculations behind them. Hopefully I don’t have any snap decisions to make before practices change.



Photographer Lydia Selk lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. She is an artist and photographer who took the time to look for beauty and says that now beauty is all she can see.

Last 5 posts by Peter McCarthy

Last 5 posts by Peter McCarthy