We can all agree that humans need to reduce their impact on the environment. And while most of us think of this in terms of everyday activities — like eating less meat, or being water wise — this responsibility actually extends beyond life and even death.
To reduce the environmental impact, human bodies must return to nature as soon as possible. But the dissolution rate of some of the more common traditional disposal methods is very slow. can take several decades to decompose the body.
In a unique study, our team analyzed it 408 human corpses Bodies have been exhumed from grave pits and stone tombs in northern Italy to see which conditions help accelerate decay.
Environmental cost of traditional burial
Funeral rites should respect the dead, close families and promote access to the afterlife according to people’s beliefs. This looks different to different people. Although the Catholic Church allowed cremation Since 1963Burial is still preferred. Muslims are always supposed to be buried, while most Hindus are cremated.
However, the latest census in Australia revealed that nearly 40% of the population”and not religiousThis opens up more avenues for how to treat people’s bodies after death.
Most of the traditional burial practices in industrialized countries have many harmful long-term effects Effects on the environment. Fragments of wood and metal remain in coffins and chests in the ground, leaching harmful chemicals through paint, preservatives, and alloys. The chemicals used in mummification also stay in the ground and can pollution soils and waterways.
Cremation is also great carbon traces. It requires a lot of trees for fuel and produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as volatile toxic compounds.
There are several alternatives to traditional cemeteries. These include “water burning” or “re-dissolving” (where the body quickly dissolves), human Fertilizerembalming, freezing (freezing and storage), space burialsand even transform the body into the trees or ashes Diamond or vinyl record.
However, many of these alternatives are either illegal, unavailable, expensive, or not in line with people’s beliefs. The vast majority choose to bury coffins, and all countries accept this method. Therefore, the question of sustainable landfills is limited to choosing between many types of Coffins available.
What leads to faster decomposition?
Coffins range from traditional wooden boxes to cardboard coffins to natural ones made of willow, banana leaf or bamboo, which decompose faster.
The most environmentally sustainable option is one that allows the body to decompose and turn into a skeleton (or “skeleton”) quickly – perhaps in a few years.
Our research provided three main findings about conditions that enhance the skeletal structure of human bodies.
First, she asserted that corpses disposed of in traditionally sealed tombs (where the coffin is set within a stone space) can take more than 40 years to be erected.
In these sealed tombs, the oxygen is rapidly consumed by bacteria in the stone space where the sarcophagus is placed. This creates a microenvironment that promotes the preservation of the body almost indefinitely.
We also found that graves with a high content of sand and gravel in the soil promoted decomposition and skeletal formation of corpses in less than ten years – even if they were in a coffin.
That’s because this soil composition allows for more air circulation and micro-fauna, and ample water drainage – all of which are helpful in decomposing organic matter.
Finally, our research confirmed previous suspicions about the slow decomposition of buried bodies. We discovered that placing corpses inside stone tombs, or covering them with stone slabs on the ground, helps in the formation of corpse wax (or “adiposer“).
This substance is the end result of many chemical reactions by which the adipose (adipose) tissues of the body are transformed into a soapy substance that is highly resistant to further deterioration. The presence of cadaver wax slows (if not completely stops) the decomposition process.
A new greener option
While searching for innovative burial solutions, we had the opportunity to try out a new type of corpse disposal in a cemetery called “airy grave“.
Over the past 20 years, air cemeteries have been developed in some European countries including France, Spain and Italy (where a You have also commercial). It allows a lot of aeration, which in turn allows for a sanitary and faster decomposition of the corpses compared to traditional cemeteries.
They have some notable features:
The activated carbon filter purifies the gases
The liquids are sucked up through two distinct biodegradable biological powders, one placed at the bottom of the coffin and the other in a collection tray underneath.
Once the body has decomposed, the skeletal remains can be moved to an osteoporosis box (a location where skeletal remains are stored), while the tomb can be dismantled and most of its components recycled.
Air tombs are also cheaper than regular tombs and can be built from existing tombs. It will be easy to use in Australia and will comply with public health and hygiene standards.
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what will happen to our bodies after death. Maybe we should. In the end, this may be one of our most important recent decisions – with implications for our precious planet.