Enviro Funerals Do They Exist

As with nearly everything these days, people across the world are becoming environmentally aware. Funerals are no different. With the increasing number of funeral homes that are now offering environmental options we thought it was a good idea to look more closely as to what environmental options are available and take a closer look at just how environmental they might actually be and let you make your own mind up.

Burial v Cremation

Cremation into the future

DSC_7142

Throughout the world there has been increased interest about Alkaline Hydrolysis, a safe and eco friendly alternative to flame cremation or burial. Alkaline Hydrolysis uses water instead of fire. With claims of 90% less energy used than flame cremation and 0% emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. On the surface, this process looks like it could be a great environmental alternative to conventional cremation. Yet, with Alkaline Hydrolysis taking  approximately two days, against flame cremation  taking only a few hours, there may still be some way to go in this area before its taken up as a total viable alternative.

Cremation is the preferred option in Victoria where more people in suburban areas choose cremation as distinct from burial. It should be noted that burial in Victoria is for perpetuity, meaning that the burial has no ending and the grave will be there forever. (in other states and countries throughout the world, burial is limited in tenure, where graves will be reused). Regular maintenance is required for each grave including lawn graves. With over 560 cemeteries in Victoria alone (National Competition Policy review of The Cemeteries Act 1958 Victoria), there is considerable maintenance required. Many of these cemeteries are now closed (full). It should be noted that a component of cremation fees subsides the ongoing maintenance cost of cemeteries.

Calvary Cemetery

So I guess in considering the environmental impact  of burial, ongoing maintenance should be taken into consideration.

Cardboard v Timber Coffins or caskets

As funeral directors, we are constantly asked why don’t we use cardboard coffins?

Cardboard coffins are available. There is little difference in cost between cardboard and particle board and some funeral directors complain about the structural integrity of the cardboard coffins, when exposed to either moisture or refrigeration. Some crematoria have made comment that more fuel is required in the cremation process when using cardboard, where as a timber coffin aids in the cremation process.

Perhaps an alternative is the wicker coffin.

Willow Casket

Hand woven, using renewable materials. These types of coffins are now readily available in Australia, albeit are imported from overseas.

Fittings

Most coffins caskets have combustible (plastic) fittings, including, handles, name plates and crucifix. Some coffins still have metal fixtures. funeral directors have often been accused of reusing coffins and fittings, however in a highly regulated state likes ours (Victoria, Australia) it is simply not possible. However, most of our crematoriums here do actually remove the fixtures, not for reuse, but for environmental purposes. The fixtures are repurposed, but not reused. Interesting only the other day client asked me why they can’t be reused?

Vehicles and fuel efficiency

Most funeral vehicles are still petrol or diesel and to my knowledge no-one has yet moved to an environmental alternative.

Embalming and Body Preparation

There has been much written and said about the copious amounts of chemicals funeral directors use. Whilst it may make a great story, there is little evidence to support it. Basic body preparation requires little to no chemicals. The types of chemical used in basic preparation may equate to disinfection of the equipment. These chemicals are similar to what can be found in any household.

Full embalming does however use some speciality product, but the quantity is small. The types of chemicals varies considerably and more embalming fluid manufactures are taking into account OH&S and the environment  in developing new products.

In Australia few companies embalm every body.  Those companies that do embalm, do so for a reason, so before running out and deciding you don’t need embalming, talk to your funeral director first. The total amount of embalming fluid used is probably not that significant. Presently there is no other alternatives to embalming.

Handsome mature surgeon in blue medical wear and mask is putting on medical gloves at operating room
In The Prep Room

The Final Word

So, where does that leave the funeral industry and those that are wanting an environmental alternatives?

Confused?

At this stage, you will probably have to make your own mind up about what you think is the best choices, but just be aware, that because a funeral service is marketed as “Environmental” doesn’t necessary mean it is.

 

 

 

Leave It To The Funeral Director

When we were working through the town planning process for our new funeral home, I was expressing my frustration to our planner over the lack of understanding from some of the council regulators. My planner said this, “Robert, your industry is so unique that in a planners entire work life, they may never be involved in the planning process for a funeral home and so therefore how could they begin to know”.

It got me to thinking of all the people we deal with and how many may have the same lack of understanding about what we do.

Often some of my acquaintances will yell out in semi humorous way and with a wry smile ” hey, have you buried many lately”. I politely smile in return. Yet, when we look at this statement, in our State, Victoria, the greater percentage of people are cremated rather than buried with figures nearing 60% or more in some areas. So the statistical chances of me conducting a  burial may only be four out every ten deaths. Maybe the correct question should be,”have I done many cremations lately?”

But, these wry questions and answers underpin the fundamental lack of understanding of what it is that funeral directors actually do.

Put at its simplest there are two main functions funeral director performs.

  1. Practical Functions
  2. Administrative functions

Practical functions the funeral director may perform include collection of the body, storage and preparation of the deceased, casketing, duties on the day of the funeral and any other associated events. Many people think this is all the funeral does.

Senior people casual greeting shaking hands
Expierence, Knowledge & Understanding key elements  required in selecting a Funeral Director

Administratively there are equally as many tasks, organising cemeteries, crematorium, doctors, Celebrants, music, flowers, Audio visual, printed materials, registration documentation and all the associated forms that go with each pratcial function and then keeping everyone informed

Yet, whilst these tasks can be rambled off in a paragraph or two many of these function, individually can take many hours to perform and some require extensive training. The role of the professional funeral director is to keep all the functions moving along and synced to ensure the funeral and associated services go off without a hitch often all within the space of a few days.

While from time to time some families wish to be involved in some of the technical aspects of the funeral some parts are best left to the funeral director.  I recall a funeral where a particular family member wanted to be in charge of the order of service. Problem was they were the last to arrive at the funeral and the order of services were handed out to the seated congregation at the last moment. Funeral Directors are trained and have the experience and knowledge to avoid these types of errors. From a funeral directors point of view nothing can be left to the last minute to organize, as this is when errors occur.

The mortuary  is often a misunderstood and maligned area of understanding. Mortuary personal typically have spent more than two years in training before gaining their qualification. Sadly, in Australia most funeral homes operate without any formal mortuary training what so ever. The work of an embalmer is rarely known and although at times can be unpleasant, the skilled practitioners takes great solace in the knowledge that their work is invaluable in helping families work their way through the grieve process.

So while families may wish to be involved in some of the preparations before a funeral many tasks are often best left to the funeral director to avoid unnecessary errors or mistakes. How, do I find out how I can help, just ask your funeral director, they should work with you to accommodate your wishes.

Sadly in recent times with the increase in price conscious clients some funeral homes offer little in the way of experienced, knowledgable and proficient staff. Only recently I was told of one funeral home offering cash incentives for the celebrants to do everything from collection of the deceased to documentation, bookings and

assisting at the funeral itself. This type of funeral model rings alarm bells and it should with you to.  So when your select a funeral director, ensure they have the skill, knowledge, expertise and qualifications to look after you.

Robert Nelson is managing director of Robert Nelson Funerals. Based in Melbourne, he is a fifth generation funeral director with over three decades of experience. A qualified Embalmer and member of the British Institute of embalmers, Past President of The Australian Funeral Directors Association (Victorian Division), past deputy chairman Australian Institute of Embalmers, he has travelled and studied extensively throughout the world in numerous disciplines.