Circular Economy and Funerals

If we are looking for answers to the questions, we are asking ourselves, one conventional means, might be – to use a travel analogy, to consult a map, how to get from A to B. A directory would be one way, the old fashioned physical print form; or search for directions on a digital device such as a smart phone or tablet, with the advantage of these providing a recommended route to get there.

PICTURE: Recompose human composting facility in Washington state. Photo Credit: Ken Lambert, Seattle Times 2021.

But, there are no such clear-cut answers for many of life’s questions. They are many and varied.  they can be influenced by traditions and culture. They are influenced by economics. The most significant influence is always ecology, although until recent times this has been deliberately ignored – sidestepped, externalised and often considered too difficult to factor in.

This is no longer true. Enter Circular Economy (CE) thinking and we have a game changer in our midst. CE is an inclusive set of principles that in practice help integrate human activity into what nature does best – create balance, enrich ecosystems, reincorporate all left over matter from one process for reuse in the next.  The purpose is to build resilience into the structures underpinning each subsequent action. In other words, CE offers stability and continuity, whereas linear economics (LE) systems end up exhausting raw material supplies with diminishing returns and finally collapse with the system imploding on itself. LE practice equates to eating the host with self-extinguishing actions depleting all the organs of the mother – read ecosystems and species on which life depends.

As we play catch up and transition from linear to circular, if ever there was a time when we need to interrogate ourselves its now. A good reason to do so, is knowing that all the best answers start with wildly inquisitive questions. What if?  What if? And what if? And with each answer, to each what if, another what if?

In the case of CE Ellen MacFarlane who sailed through the plastic garbage ‘dump’ in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, she asked how we could let this happen and how we can prevent more. The answer in part is to transition from linear to mimicking nature = result the Circular Economy.

In the case of reducing the waste associated with funerals and disposing of deceased corpses / bodies / carcasses / cadaver. To transition from the linear method of coffin to grave, coffin to gas fired incinerator and resulting greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

Reinventing age-old processes involve composting and aquamation aka alkaline hydrolysis. Both are much more earth friendly than cremation, producing minimal emissions and providing associated benefits such as enabling the reclamation of artificial body parts such as hip and knee joint stainless steel, etc.  Most beneficial of all is the recovery of mercury of which there is no safe levels from a human health angle – but which is a by-product of incineration making cremation and leaching into the soil from burial grave sites so harmful.

So the existing road map for funerals can now be expanded to include these more benign processes that are more in keeping with earth-ways of living and less dependent on energy intensive methods.

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