8 Cremation Alternatives for You or a Loved One


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For some people, cremation is the right choice. For others, it’s more important to be eco-conscious. Cremation isn’t going to win the “most eco-friendly” award. Tremendous amounts of energy are used in the process, not to mention emissions.

Jump ahead to these sections: 

  1. Water Burials
  2. Donate Your Body to Science
  3. Sky Burial
  4. Mushroom Burial Suit
  5. Tree Pod Burial
  6. Promession
  7. Cryonics
  8. Reef Burial

You might think burial or cremation are the only options available to you, but that’s just not true. There are so many more options available. We’ve handpicked eight options that might be right up your alley.

1. Water Burials

You may be familiar with one of the most popular water burial options — you scatter cremated ashes. Loved ones often pick a special spot, like the sea or their favorite lake. But if cremation isn’t involved, what else can you do? 

Many people choose to be buried at sea, especially if they spent their working years on the ocean. To do so, you’ll need to obtain a few things. A specially-made, biodegradable shroud or casket is one of them. Ideally, this is made of natural fibers so it breaks down easily and doesn’t disrupt or harm marine ecosystems.

You’ll also need to weigh it down. That way, the body sinks to the ocean floor. You’ll also need to investigate laws in your state and obtain a boat. Some companies will do this for you. But if you have your own boat on hand and you have the knowledge to sail out into the ocean, why not do it? It could be a special farewell between you and your loved one. 

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

2. Donate Your Body to Science

There are many great reasons to give your body to science. Tomorrow’s medical students spend a portion of their education learning from donated cadavers. From saving lives to facilitating scientific discoveries, donating your body is a great way to make sure you continue giving even after you’re gone. 

Want to avoid cremation at all costs? You will have to avoid donating your body to a medical school. Most cadavers are only in use for three years at the most, then your body is cremated and returned to your family. Mortuary schools and tissue bank companies also present the same issue.

There are so many different types of body donations available, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Many people’s lives are saved by organ donation each year. Most states give you the option to choose which organs and tissues you want to donate, or you may opt to donate everything that can be used.

Check with your state donor registry to learn more. After you die, your organs will be harvested and given to recipients and then your body will be returned to your family. 

Want to make sure none of your remains are sent back to your family? Try investigating forensic body donation programs. In layman’s terms, these are called body farms. Their purpose is to further forensic research. This means no remains will be returned because the purpose is to observe natural decomposition.

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3. Sky Burial 

The concept of green burials isn’t new. In fact, it’s only new in Western culture. Other countries and religions have pursued green burials out of necessity and conviction for hundreds of years. Tibetan Buddhist sky burials are an example. 

Buddhism centers around four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Sky burials require bodies to be left out in the open air. Since vultures are natural predators in Tibet, where the tradition originated, they typically consume human remains.

Buddhists believe that consciousness is the most important part of the body, so after someone dies, his or her body is useless. That’s why Tibetan Buddhists aren’t squeamish about leaving their dead for birds and other predators. If this appeals to you, it might be worthwhile to investigate how a sky burial would work in Western culture. 

It’s difficult to predict how this would work. Tibetan Buddhists are not open regarding the practice, which is partially due to misunderstandings and persecution. Based on records and eyewitness accounts, this is how a sky burial would work. 

Transporting the body to a burial ground is the first step. Afterward, monks burn incense around the body and chant. Sometimes, these chants are prayers. At other times, they are religious mantras. Historical texts and eyewitness accounts differ wildly, so it’s safe to say that rituals change. A sky burial might vary based on the practices of individuals or monasteries. 

There are two ways sky burials work. In the first tradition, authorized people break the body into pieces using mallets. The remains are mixed with tea, barley flour, and yak butter or milk. Once this mixture is complete, it’s given up to vultures. 

There’s a second method. First, the body is left for the vultures. Once they’ve picked the body clean, the bones are broken down. Then, those remains are combined with the above ingredients. It’s given to vultures so there’s nothing left over. While this is great for the environment, leftovers are also considered bad luck. 

You can mimic the practice without religious additions in any state where it is legal. But it’s important to know where the tradition came from. That way, you can appreciate the ritual’s culture.

4. Mushroom Burial Suit 

Have you ever heard of a mushroom burial suit? Most people haven’t! But thanks to popular star Luke Perry choosing one as his last wish, they’re gaining popularity. 

The brainchild of an MIT student, this is a simple solution to most burial issues. Your end-of-life plan can start simply: with a mushroom burial suit and a plot. The suit is made from organic cotton, but the magic comes from mushrooms. These spores are stored directly into the fabric. That’s why it’s important to store the suit in a cool, dark place. You can purchase it at any time. Just store it properly and leave written instructions for your loved ones! 

After death, it’s important to move quickly. You must be dressed in the suit and buried within 24 hours. That way, the mushroom spores can germinate properly. Once the mushrooms grow, they use your body as fuel to do so. They decompose and flourish.

But that’s not all. Mushrooms also convert your body’s toxins into enzymes. Each body has toxins in it, which add up when many are buried together. The end goal is nutrient-rich, organic waste that nourishes the earth and allows the cycle of life to begin all over again.

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

5. Tree Pod Burial

Tree pod burials can involve your whole body. It can also technically involve cremation but allows for ideas outside of traditional urn storage. In this case, your body or ashes will be placed inside a biodegradable vessel. This is buried underground, much like a casket.

But in this case, you select a tree before you pass away. It could be one with sentimental value or one that thrives in your area. This tree will be planted directly above your remains. As your body decomposes, it allows for the tree to be nourished and also provides oxygen to the environment. 

6. Promession

Promession mimics the idea of cremation but in an environmentally-friendly way. Promession means your body is frozen with liquid nitrogen. By achieving temperatures of -320 degrees, the body’s individual cells become crystallized and brittle.

When the body is vibrated, it decomposes into particles. These particles then undergo a freeze-drying process. These freeze-dried remains, mimicking ash, are usually placed in a biodegradable container and buried. 

7. Cryonics

Many people look forward to the future of science. It’s a future where terminal illness is eradicated and the dead are brought back to life. Today, many people die of illnesses that might be preventable in the future. For instance, many people died of influenza during a worldwide pandemic in the 20th century. What if they’d had a workable flu vaccine then? If those people’s bodies had been stored, they could have been reanimated later.

Cryonics involves full-body or head-only storage in a facility that cares for your body and monitors it. This allows your body to be saved for a future where medicine can work miracles. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

8. Reef Burial 

Reef burials also involve cremation. They allow you to give back to the environment in a meaningful way. Coral reefs, the cornerstone of marine environments, are endangered. This is due to toxic runoff, tourism, and other issues. They need something to build on, and that often takes a long time to develop naturally.

Mankind can help. By sinking concrete barriers or other solid structures into the sea, this gives reefs a jumpstart. Companies offer the option of casting huge concrete balls. These are sunken into the ocean after your ashes are mixed in. 

If you like the idea of becoming a natural formation after death, but you'd rather have your remains stay land-locked, Parting Stone can solidify your ashes into beautiful cremation stones.

Picking an Option 

From human composting to promession, there are so many other options available. If none of the ones listed above strike your fancy, keep looking! It all depends on what your priorities are. Looking ahead will only make things easier in the future. Whether you want to buy a mushroom suit or investigate a sky burial, your options are wide open. 

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