Saturday, 18 February 2012


Cremation is a polluting activity
© Godric Godricson
The British are often pragmatic in nature and frequently elect to be cremated  rather than  to be buried. They perceive that cremation is ‘clean’ and there is a long tradition of cremation. The British  traditionally consider that cremation is better for the environment because the process takes up less physical space and the family don’t have to keep the headstone clean and tidy. In many ways, cremation appears a clean and tidy ‘once and for-all’ solution. For a predominantly Protestant country like Britain, largely unaware of  Catholic teaching, cremation appears a traditionally desirable process.

It's correct that cremated remains don’t take up the same amount of land  that burials require. However, the public do not consider that  the process of cremation releases huge volumes of air pollution and particulates into the atmosphere. I know that this idea of releasing material is a little ‘icky’ but let’s briefly consider what happens when a body is cremated.  When we place a body in the cremator we are placing a lot of material in there. In addition to human remains we are also adding 'wood', textiles and potentially a lot of embalming fluid and chemicals. That sounds very unhealthy as a combination. In effect, if a  human body plus the  coffin  weighs approximately  300 pounds and we are left with a final weight of 2 pounds in  ashes that means a lot of material has gone up the chimney as smoke . We have deliberately sent a lot of solid material up the chimney and created nothing but smoke and water vapour. How do we, on the one hand, believe that we love the departed and honour their memory and, on the other hand, consign them into the upper atmosphere for everyone on Earth to breath and ingest.

Most of the adverse chemicals released in the cremation are created from the foam held in rubber mattress, the polyester fabric of coffin linings, human clothing and the urethane finishes of the coffin itself. The composite 'wood' of conventional coffins is often comprised of fibreboard rather than ‘real’ wood and is held together by complex and polluting glue and oil based resins. We have heard from newspaper reports of the toxins and pollutants dispersed into the atmosphere through the chimneys and such pollutants are a fairly toxic cocktail of heavy metals, hydrogen chloride, dioxins and furans. The metal from our dental fillings are lethal . Crematoria are aware of this pollution and have doubtless taken care of the matter (as far as they can) with the use of filters  The effect of such attempts to contain pollution are probably quite patchy depending on efficiency and local circumstances.

I would suggest that the rise in ‘green burials’ and ‘woodland’ burials are an expression of a concern at the effects of cremation and the pollution that cremations cause. In effect, there can be no more energy efficient way of disposing of the dead than to  open up a grave and reverently place the body in there to await decomposition. Without embalming and using only natural fabrics, the body quickly returns to its constituent materials and soaks into the earth from which it came. So, much better than all that natural gas being consumed to transform a body largely comprised of water into gas and smoke.

If you consider that this article may be incorrect. I challenge people to stand close to a cremator and see what happens  when a funeral party has left the environment. The chamber is fired up and sooner or later there is that faint, vague and sweetish smell of burnt 'wood' in the atmosphere. It's a pleasant smell but one that betokens that the filters aren’t working.

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