Photo by Andrea Galvani
In the news today on treehugger.com, was a story of a Swedish town that after evaluating the environmental impact of their crematory, decided to recycle the heat normally released from the retort, back into heating the building, and in turn into the town. At first this may seem like they are heating their town by burning bodies, but that is not the case at all. Cremation requires an enormous amount of energy to accomplish the combustion of a body. The body is not fuel, natural gas is. What is happening, is that the heat that is used for the combustion is rerouted back into the system, rather than just being released into the atmosphere.
Whether this recycling is really 'green' depends upon your perspective. It is greener than cremation without the recapture of heat energy, but it is certainly not the 'greenest' way of dealing with human remains. In my opinion, promession is ultimately the greenest, and following that, would be local burial in a burlap shroud, we would go quite a way down the list before arriving at cremation. Certainly this not the greenest or most efficient way to heat the town, either.
Perhaps though, like most of us, it is somewhere in the middle. Most people would like to be as green as possible while still giving priority to other concerns, and for those who desire cremation, for whatever reason, this is a greener cremation. In funerals, I have found that green is more often a matter of degree than an absolute.
I would liken this recycling to requesting memorials rather than flowers at a funeral service. You are channeling energy to what you see as a positive direction. Some people will still send flowers anyway, and that's okay too. In the end it's about showing support to the family and acting in the spirit of the one who has died, not a fundraiser or telethon.