Researchers study how lifelong environmentalists want their remains handled after death


Research News


LAWRENCE — Traditional burial in a graveyard has environmental costs. Graves can take up valuable land, leak embalming chemicals and involve nonbiodegradable materials like concrete, as well as the plastic and steel that make up many caskets. But the other mainstream option — cremation — releases dangerous chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the environment.

So, what’s an environmentalist to do when making plans for the end of life?

A new study from the University of Kansas in the journal Mortality details how older environmentalists consider death care and how likely they are to choose “green” burials and other eco-friendly options.

“This article is specifically asking if older adult environmentalists consider how their bodies are going to be disposed as part of their environmental activism,” said lead author Paul Stock, associate professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Kansas.

In addition to a literature review on the ecological costs of various disposal methods, Stock and co-author Mary Kate Dennis of the University of Manitoba interviewed 20 people in the Kansas. Participants were 60 years and older, engaged in environmental activities and possessed spiritual values that guided their environmentalism.

“We were really surprised to see both answers — that yes, they’re planning on green burial, and no, it’s not even on their radar,” Stock said. “We were often the ones introducing these people that are so knowledgeable in so many areas of the environment and activism to green burial. We would ask them, ‘Do you want your body to be buried in a green burial?’ And many would say, ‘I don’t know what that is, can you tell me about it?'”

The researchers said awareness of green burials — where a body is placed into the soil to facilitate decomposition without durable caskets or concrete chambers — is growing for some older people. But the practice of green burial remains clouded by a funeral industry looking to make profits, and it can be influenced by considerations of family, religious and cultural traditions, as well as the practices of institutions like the military that carry out funerals.

“The business of burial has shaped all of our ideas about how we can be buried,” Dennis said. “A lot of participants said they weren’t aware of green burial. We’re sort of presented with two choices — you’re going to be put in the cemetery or cremated. Then, we start expanding to other options, but that’s only been in recent times. You see some of their desires, like, ‘I want to be put out on the land.’ Or you see in some of our green-burial narratives where people took it into their own hands. But you have to have be empowered to go against the grain, so I think for a lot of us we didn’t even know a green burial was possible, and pushback from society, capitalism and the funeral industry has created a situation where we don’t even know the possibilities — some of the environmentalists in our study didn’t know there were laws that say they can be buried on their own land.”

The researchers found more than half of their environmentally minded participants planned on eventual cremation.

Among those planning burials, there was “unequal knowledge about green burial as an option” even though Lawrence is at the vanguard of green burial in its municipal regulations and even boasts a green-burial section in the local cemetery, Oak Hill, where “metal, concrete, plastic, other synthetic materials and/or stone may not be used for interment.”

“We heard different stories and different requests or thoughts of what they’re going to ask their loved ones to do with their bodies,” Stock said. “The introduction of green burials is very much — like a lot of their thoughts on where or how they wanted to be disposed of — about a sense of place. What struck us and what was so interesting was that Lawrence had, at least at the time, the only municipal-owned cemetery in the country that allowed green burials.”

Perhaps the varying answers given by participants is a result of a lack of conclusive evidence that no one form of handling human remains is decidedly more eco-friendly than another, as the issue has been little-studied.

“There’s not a clear line,” Stock said. “What really struck us was there’s not actually too much science done on comparing what’s more environmental. There are really just one or two papers out there using common environmental measurements — whether it’s a carbon footprint or some other kind of way — to even give us technical measurements to compare. We essentially don’t have too much information to guide us as scientists, much less for older adults as to what is the greenest way of taking care of ones remains.”

The investigators predicted that as green burials gain in popularity, more options for green disposal of bodies will become commonly available, even ones that today seem eccentric.

“The mushroom suit — when we talk about that with our undergrads they’re usually sort of puzzled and intrigued,” Dennis said. “People wonder, ‘How does that work?” But it’s an interesting one. Basically, you’re wrapped in material and then mushrooms grow out of you, and it cleans the toxins. There’s going to be more new and awesome ways to be buried that we haven’t even heard of yet.”


From EurekAlert!

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February 10, 2021 10:12 am

I want to be buried face down in a shallow grave so the world can kiss my ass! The mushrooms would be a nice touch. Make them ‘magic mushrooms’ so I can trip extensive in my after life!

Climate believer
February 10, 2021 10:13 am

Always fancied being recycled by way of a vulture on some high mountain ledge, a sky burial I think the Tibetans call it, that’s pretty eco-friendly.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Climate believer
February 10, 2021 2:26 pm

That is the Parsis of Bombay India who practice the Zoroastrian faith.

Reply to  Walter Sobchak
February 10, 2021 5:53 pm

The Towers of Silence have been encroached upon by the growth of Mumbai. The vultures drop pieces in flight — unpopular with the neighbors.

Reply to  Climate believer
February 10, 2021 2:38 pm

My brother tells me he has arranged for that method of disposal. After the vultures pick him clean, his skeleton will be used for medical study. Some years later his bones will be returned to whatever descendants are still around for a proper burial. I don’t know if he is telling the truth or just pulling my leg.

February 10, 2021 10:15 am

you know how you know you’re living in an affluent society….

….when people have the leisure time to sit around and dream up this BS

Reply to  Latitude
February 10, 2021 2:22 pm

A green-blooded science PHD family member has found an option whereby the (supposed) elemental compounds of their human remains can be subjected to a process involving super high pressure. I was told this created a stable “diamond” of their remains.

This “diamond” is then to be held pending the launch into space of affluent others when enough accumulated. I am compelled to add that this was told to me straight faced by the affluent religious spouse who, when pressed, wasn’t sure they’d plan for their remains to
likewise become a “diamond”.

Reply to  gringojay
February 10, 2021 2:39 pm

That sounds like it takes a lot of energy.

Reply to  starzmom
February 10, 2021 11:55 pm

It must have taken a lot of energy just listening to that BS

Reply to  starzmom
February 11, 2021 3:59 am

it does and its a slow process over a month or so i think

Reply to  gringojay
February 11, 2021 3:59 am

they use a smallish amount of the ash or hair to make the diamonds from
its expensive or I would have a necklace of diamonds from all my deceased pets already.
nowhere have i read of the entire or fresh remains being used

Melvyn Dackombe
Reply to  Latitude
February 10, 2021 3:44 pm

should read ‘ effluent ‘ society.

February 10, 2021 10:22 am

That idea you must have to get funds:
Researchers study how lifelong environmentalists want their remains handled after death
No idea is bad enough not to be published.
comment image

Last edited 1 year ago by Krishna Gans
George Zavodnick
February 10, 2021 10:22 am

Burial at sea.

Reply to  George Zavodnick
February 10, 2021 2:10 pm

Reminds me of that joke about the guy who had a visit from the police to tell him his mother-in-law had fallen overboard and drowned while she was letting out the anchor on their yacht and they had retrieved her body, which was covered with lobsters.

The police asked the guy what he wanted done now.

He though for moment, then said –
“Well we should put the lobsters on ice, then I reckon we should set her again tonight, but maybe not in the same spot.”

Reply to  George Zavodnick
February 12, 2021 6:13 pm

— burial as a volcanic sacrifice —

Jeff Labute
February 10, 2021 10:26 am

Seeing we are running short on pyramids, feed me to a volcano, or place my body on a glacier only to be discovered thousands of years from now, or sooner. They will know what to do with me at that time.

Or maybe hire a company to dig a backyard hole. Toss me in with no preservatives and plant a blueberry bush above my grave. I love blueberries. All the McDonalds will leach from my dead body which is pretty close to being like preservatives.

Reply to  Jeff Labute
February 10, 2021 10:46 am

I like the glacier idea.

If the timing of the advance/retreat worked out the same way as it did for Otzi, my encapsulated note would make a lot of sense …

“It was nice and warm in this region before I died you dumbass, the snow covered me as it got colder here, then the glacier melted as it began to warm again. None of the warm/cold cycle had anything to do with me or you, you self centered manipulative piece of crap.”

February 10, 2021 10:38 am

Soylent green?

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Pauleta
February 11, 2021 2:05 am

Do you want Soylent green cheese on that cracker?

Peter W
February 10, 2021 10:47 am

Personally, I am going for cremation. With all the cold weather we are having these days, we could use a little of my donation toward warmth.

Bruce Cobb
February 10, 2021 11:02 am

I can see it now:
“Here we have your standard Green Bury. Over here is the Shroom Bury. And here’s my own favorite, the Straw Bury”.

February 10, 2021 11:02 am

If they want to die with the same values that they lived, they can be cremated (with natural gas burners), buy a ticket on a space ship, and have their ashes dumped into space. Then make up for it all with carbon credits.

Hypocrites all.

February 10, 2021 11:03 am

Holleywood had it figured out 50 years ago in the movie Soylent Green, it even has Green in the title!

Tom Abbott
February 10, 2021 11:04 am


Then they could launch my ashes into space. SpaceX Funeral Services.

February 10, 2021 11:18 am

One of my high school summer jobs involved making and delivering concrete burial vaults to the grave site. I averaged about 10 funerals per week. Sometimes the grave diggers would encounter unmarked graves which were several hundred years old. Skulls and even wooden teeth were found.
The concrete vaults were required by the modern municipalities. Family spats entailed digging up Aunt Millie and carting the vault mit contents down to Florida, can you believe it?
Learned a lot about death and the funeral industry, at least the customers never complained…

Tom Abbott
Reply to  yirgach
February 10, 2021 8:13 pm

I had a summer job relocating an Indian cemetery in Colorado.

I didn’t have to dig up the old cemetery, I was assigned over at the new cemetery where the remains would be relocated. All we had to do was oversee the backhoe driver digging the holes and lowering the new caskets into the ground. Me and my friend, the boss’s son. 🙂

It was a little strange. Good money, though.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tom Abbott
February 10, 2021 11:19 am

Acid bath. Breaking Bad style.

Reply to  leowaj
February 10, 2021 1:11 pm

Something more alkaline would do a better job breaking down human flesh and bones. A nice strong lye (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide), perhaps. Added bonus: the enviros could have the leavings tossed in the ocean to help reduce ocean acidification.


Ed MacAulay
Reply to  PaulH
February 10, 2021 4:18 pm

Don’t laugh, that is a real option of alkaline hydrolysis with potassium hydroxide, heat in a pressure chamber to about 150 o C. Or without pressure to 98oC and simmer for 14-16 hours. Flush the liquid and grind the bone remnants.
Alternatively, Nova Scotia has at least 3 green cemeteries with slightly different rules and regulations.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ed MacAulay
February 15, 2021 5:19 am

Washington State has legalized human composting by this method, using wood chips.

John Tillman
Reply to  PaulH
February 15, 2021 5:25 am

Washington State has legalized human composting by this method:

February 10, 2021 11:21 am

Not near Al Gore–the thought of the freezing cold is too much.

And not near Obama–the eternal flames are scary.

February 10, 2021 11:22 am

Tan my hide when I’m dead Fred.

Reply to  Rob_Dawg
February 10, 2021 2:13 pm

And that’s it hangin’ on the shed?

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Rob_Dawg
February 11, 2021 2:08 am

A hide spanking is worth living for!

February 10, 2021 11:26 am

There’s a pile of composted manure somewhere with Michael Mann’s name on it.

Reply to  Scissor
February 10, 2021 11:34 am

Why bother putting him on a pile, he’s already packed full of the stuff.

Robert MacLellan
Reply to  Scissor
February 10, 2021 6:24 pm

AAAnd composting is actually one of the options though I don’t think they have considered the methane production….

Mumbles McGuirck
Reply to  Scissor
February 11, 2021 6:05 am

“There’s a pile of composted manure somewhere named Michael Mann”
There, I fixed it for you.

alastair gray
February 10, 2021 11:30 am

These enviro-ghouls want to reduce the population of the world by several billion. That constitutes a huge problem about putting out the trash. Let them think a bit about that before getting too hung up on their touchy feely precious planjet saving preciousness

Reply to  alastair gray
February 10, 2021 11:43 am

Soylent Green is the solution. Watch the movie.

alastair gray
February 10, 2021 11:38 am

It would seem that most people on this site are not overly mawkish about their preferred means of removing their mortal remains from this mortal coil

Richard Page
Reply to  alastair gray
February 10, 2021 11:48 am

Don’t see why anyone would be – comes to us all in the end. I plan on going out resisting to the last – I follow the Terry Pratchett wizards philosophy: “How do they prefer to be buried?” “Reluctantly.”

February 10, 2021 11:42 am

Let me guess. They want to normalize necrophilia.

Reply to  bluecat57
February 10, 2021 4:45 pm

Well, a mans got to have a pastime !
& your court defence can be … ‘they never said no’.

Reply to  saveenergy
February 10, 2021 7:16 pm

You point out the problem with my guess.

Necrophilia can’t be normalized for the same reason Beastiality can’t – the #metoo consent issue.

BUT, there is hope for both:

This Collar Translates Your Dog’s Barking Using Artificial Intelligence

Meet the man on a controversial mission to preserve and digitize your brain

If both those come to pass, then next question would be:

In their consent valid?

February 10, 2021 11:59 am

I think a green burial is perfect for them, they’ll make great fertilizer because they’re all full of sh*t. As for me when it’s my turn I won’t care I’ll be dead, those I leave behind can do whatever they think is appropriate. My sister says she’s going to put our dads ashes in an egg timer so he can finally be useful.

February 10, 2021 12:26 pm

“Researchers study how lifelong environmentalists want their remains handled after death”
Researchers need to get a real job and stop wasting money on nonsense like this.

February 10, 2021 12:43 pm

Greenies could always have family and friends over for a “Fargo” type disposal in the backyard, using an electric chipper powered by solar cells of course. Bone and blood meal make terrific fertilizer and the worms will be happy too.

Reply to  Doonman
February 10, 2021 2:16 pm

Just don’t let them stand down-wind.
They’ll never get that ground meat out of their dreadlocks.

chris pasqualini
February 10, 2021 12:45 pm

I intend to be cremated. Preferably in a coal-fired kiln so my final carbon emissions will add enough to global warming to hold off the next glaciation.

February 10, 2021 1:36 pm

I am embarrassed that this so-called study came out of my alma mater. Did they really only interview 20 people for this study? There must be many more enviro-activists of the appropriate age in Lawrence, Kansas. Most of the faculty of the university fits the description.

Peta of Newark
February 10, 2021 1:48 pm

Hmmm, what are they hoping for with that ‘green’ site in the picture.

It is way and away too dry, you’re just gonna create a field full of mummies. And as for marking the spot with stones, again, why?

(Who was it that tried to dispose a load of bodies in/on The Atacama Desert.
Even now decades later, relatives are going up there and finding, actually still recognising their long deceased relatives.)

Markers are only gonna attract vandals, graffiti & piss artists and as sure as eggs are eggs, Tax Collectors. lawyers, well intentioned Government bizzies etc etc
Nothing Else Can Possibly Happen.
Muppet scientists also

There are green burial sites around here, I keep venturing in for a quick recce and they have VERY strict rules about Grave Markings like stones, flowers, ‘nice’ plants whatever etc
Completely NONE
No exceptions

You will be permitted, nay, encouraged to donate a tree, but, it will not be planted, as far as you know, near Uncle Albert

If you subsequently do want to visit Uncle Albert, you visit The Field.
You will be be allowed to place flowers but only in ‘Flower Placement Places’ and nowhere else – lest be accused of desecration.

And they take it even more seriously, (they really must despise lawyers, tax collectors and ‘We’re from the Government types‘) by not even telling the relatives where dear departed Uncle Albert is – in what could be a 10, 15 or 25 acre+ patch of ground.

Thus and that when you are expired, there is quite zero chance of those ugly zombified brain-dead parasites of ever finding you again

And THAT being The Whole Point = Rest in Peace
Peace being the operative and being The Very Last Thing anyone will get in that field at the top.

Look for some pix of UK Green Burial sites, note how lush & green they are.
There is water within that dirt and thus, you will be melted away in next-to-no-time
They’ll have nice climates too, especially underground.
What is not to like?

Last edited 1 year ago by Peta of Newark
Ric R
February 10, 2021 2:01 pm

Some dimwit democratic lawmaker proposed this in
Washington State awhile back, but it went nowhere

Peter W
Reply to  Ric R
February 10, 2021 4:31 pm

Spelling correction – dimocratic.

February 10, 2021 2:50 pm

Personally I’m one to wing it rather than all this central planning stuff.

Gunga Din
February 10, 2021 3:57 pm

Cryogenically freeze me in Green Jello.
(There’s always room for Jello!)

February 10, 2021 4:53 pm

Mince all the corpses, put slurry in a tanker (sail powered), dump it out in the ocean as fish food.

On the outer Barcoo
February 10, 2021 5:57 pm

If you think that your family members 2 generations beyond you could give a fiddler’s fart about maintaining your grave site, you are sadly mistaken.

sky king
February 10, 2021 6:07 pm

Having given it 10 secs of thought, I would like the remains of life-long greenies desecrated – drawn and quartered and then hung from the nearest lamp post.

sky king
Reply to  sky king
February 10, 2021 6:16 pm

Not the nearest lamp post – the nearest fire hydrant for convenient relief by dogs.

Joe Dun
February 10, 2021 6:51 pm

I was researching any regulations in regard to disposing of a relative’s remnants after creation, and was surprised to learn how few regulations they are. At least in Georgia, you can pretty much put a body anywhere you want, as long as the landowner gives permission.

They do require that the body be released for burial by the authorities… otherwise there may be questions.

Flight Level
February 11, 2021 1:14 am

Here, Aquamation, resulting in potential agriculture fertilizer fluids is the rage.

However “Towers of silence” and “Solyent Green” might be next in the green madness pipeline.

Patrick MJD
February 11, 2021 2:01 am

The main reason bodies are buried 6ft under is to stop vultures and other animals raiding the corpse creating health issues. The body is buried that deep to mask the scent of a dead body. A recently dead body has an “unusual” smell, but something rotting isn’t good. I for one will not care, I will be dead. I expect cremation but I, at the time, can’t care, I’ll be dead.

I hope I will never suffer the long, drawn out, chronic medical conditions of my father and his father. He was very ill for as long as I can remember.

As for my environmental impact, I am fairly confident that my remains will be “recycled”. After all, if this was not the case, there would be mountains of dead bodies everywhere.

Mickey Reno
February 11, 2021 5:55 am

If one is pretending to be logically consistent, and one believes burning trees is considered CO2 neutral, then cremated human bodies should also be considered CO2 neutral. For a short while we suck the carbon out of the eco-system in which we are spawned. We borrow that carbon for a short while. And then we die and give it back. All life on planet Earth is CARBON POLLUTION (not my definition, but the idiot environmentalist definition).

Reply to  Mickey Reno
February 13, 2021 1:35 pm

Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is taken out of the ground and used to fire the burners …

unless they use a wood pyre.

February 11, 2021 6:03 am

Perhaps Joe Bioden wanted to be reincarnated as Bernie (as in Weekend at Bernies) and has been dead for some time and kept on ice in his basement except when needed to be paraded around for public viewing! Looks like he is deteriorating pretty fast. Maybe a wax of latex covering is in order now.

Reply to  eyesonu
February 13, 2021 1:38 pm

A Biennium at Bidens.

Featuring Dr Biden, Kamala Harras, & Jen Psaki as themselves.

Paul Penrose
February 11, 2021 9:06 am

They interviewed 20 people in Kansas. I stopped reading after that.

February 11, 2021 9:19 am

I’ve asked to be buried in a viking longship, but my wife keeps telling me no.

Reply to  TonyG
February 11, 2021 11:29 am

I don’t care how or where they bury me as long as I get my absentee ballot in the next election!

February 11, 2021 12:09 pm

Worry worts. I mean warts. One who worries needlessly.

Walter Sobchak
February 11, 2021 12:37 pm

I am not an “environmentalist”. In fact I hate them.

But, I like the idea of being buried in a simple linen shroud and having a tree planted on top of my corpse.

Last edited 1 year ago by Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
February 13, 2021 1:41 pm

I’m thinking the same thing.

But I would like to leave a trust & directions to someone to wait a while, cut a 2″ branch, and find an environmentalist to bop with it.

Serge Wright
February 11, 2021 1:29 pm

A better alternative would be to fire the remains of the alarmists into deep space, ensuring that the defective genetic material would be removed from the carbon cycle forever.

Tsk Tsk
February 11, 2021 5:25 pm

I would encourage them to try many options. With multiple repeats to build up an adequate data set. And there’s really no reason they need to wait.

James Stagg
February 11, 2021 8:57 pm

Soylent Green is the only answer!

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