Green Funerals » Cremation and urns

Modern crematoriumSimple timber urn

Cremation is used in over 70% of New Zealand funerals. It has been seen as being more environmentally friendly than conventional burials but like may things; it's not that simple. Cemeteries vary in their environmental impact (the way they are maintained, administered and the land they occupy). Cremators vary also - new installations are likely to be cleaner burning than old ones and use less energy. The type of fuel is a factor and New Zealand scores fairly well with a number of natural gas units. Given that natural burials are not an option for a high percentage of New Zealanders, cremation is still a good option. Families can keep emissions as clean as possible by using natural clothing and making sure items like phones are not left in the coffin. Choice of coffin is also an issue. Not so long ago some MDF based coffins had PVC wood grain - when burned PVC gives off dioxins which are amongst the most toxic substances known. Councils have become aware of this and in some cases ordered the PVC to be removed prior to cremation. Hopefully this inconvenience has resulted in manufacturers dropping PVC all together. Coffins with low mass and natural materials will emit minimal toxins.
Urns are small, so the environmental impact will be minimal. However, there are choices - you have the power to discourage the continued use of 'standard' plastic urns (the default container if you have not purchased an urn) by choosing an alternative. Alternatives range from cardboard / paper based containers through to urns designed to be on display and keep ashes for long period of time such as ceramic or earthenware. Natural timber urns are a good compromise in between.