The Environmental Cost Of Funerals

The Environmental Cost Of Funerals

Global warming is fast approaching crisis levels. As time has progressed  and the world has begun to digest the implications, it has become to clear that taking a relaxed attitude is no longer an option – at least if we would like our offspring to enjoy certain liberties, such as breathing.

Many industries come to mind when one thinks of environmental pollution, the coal industry, big business etc. But rarely does the funeral industry come under scrutiny. And why should it? Surely, there is little environmental harm in the sector. 

Death is a part of everyday life, so, thinking outside the box, we decided to dig a little deeper into the funeral industry and the environmental impact of western funerals and all associated goods. We were surprised to learn of the dramatic impact funerals have and of course, by its very nature, the industry is not going to be going anywhere any time soon.  

Let’s begin with some statistics.

In 2017, 607,037 people died in the UK alone, and surprisingly, of those 467,700 were cremated. This figure represents a staggering 77% of deaths resulting in cremation.

Its long been an irrefutable fact that burning things is detrimental to the environment. The incineration of cadavers is no different.  To put it into context:

The average weight for an adult male is 83kg and 70kg for an adult female.

The average wright for cremated remains is approximately 3.5% of the original weight

Approximately 60% is made up of water

So, taking this into account, this leaves approximately one third or 20kg of material that is burned off into the atmosphere. That’s a very significant amount of emissions. And remember, this is per-person, times 467,748 in one year alone.

According to an article published in Reuters in 2015, a cremation can release upwards of 4 grams of mercury. Way back in 2005, the department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs decreed that all cremations be subject to 50% mercury abatement by the end of 2012 with a view to becoming Mercury free by 2020, as outlined here.

Well, we are now on the cusp of 2020 and there is no evidence to suggest that any further progress has been made in this initiative. It would appear that 50% abatement is good enough. At least, for now.

I think it’s safe to say at this point, cremation is certainly not the most environmentally friendly method of disposal. So, with that in mind, should we all go down the burial route?

Unfortunately, traditional methods – although better – do come with their own caveats.

If you would like to look at the bigger picture, we’ve listed below many of the elements of a funeral which are harmful to the environment and how you can adapt them for a more sustainable choice.


Embalming fluids are very harmful to the environment, especially if not disposed of correctly. Most competent funeral directors can process a body without the need for such harsh chemicals.

The Type of Coffin

Modern coffins are usually made from mahogany or similar rainforest timbers – not a good choice for sustainability. If possible, choose a coffin made from certified, sustainably sourced wood.


Flower displays have always been popular. Unfortunately, people arrangmenets have become more elaborate and many choose to opt for plastic flowers for maintenance reasons. Plastic flowers have a massive environmental toll. Pick local flowers if possible, for your arrangement.

Eco-friendly Options

With the irrefutable mounting evidence of global climate change, thankfully many businesses are turning to more sustainable methods for memorialising their loved ones.

Eco-friendly Memorial Cards:

Some memorial card companies such as  or offer personalised memorial cards made from eco-friendly plastics.

Eco-friendly Flowers:

Earth friendly flowers and arrangements are widely available made from recycled and sustainable materials.

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