Cremation is the most popular option for body disposal these days with 69.19% of deaths ending in fire cremation, that’s an average of 300 cremations taking place in Australia every single day (Australasian Cemeteries and Crematoria Association: National Cremation Capacity Survey 2020. p1). As I outlined in a previous blog, Cremation and it’s Environmental Concerns, cremation is not as environmentally friendly as people believe it to be with smoke pollution, mercury pollution and the ovens expending a significant amount of energy. Unfortunately, the “ashes” that are returned to the families come with their own environmental concerns and it is these issues that this blog is hoping to address.
‘Ashes’ or, as they are referred to in the death industry, ‘cremains’ are not wood ash, or indeed any kind of ash. During the cremation process, the softer parts of the body are burned away along with the coffin, clothing and any other items that were placed within the receptacle leaving only the bones. The bones are separated from the other debris and put into a cremulator which grinds the bones into the fine powder. The average cremation produces around 1.8-2.7kg of cremains, which is then presented to the families.
These cremains have a very high ph level, around ph12-14 and are high in sodium, both these things make them potentially dangerous to plant life. This can lead to heartbreaking situations where families use the cremains in memorial plants but the toxicity of the cremains causes the plant to die and the loss of the plant only compounds the loss of the loved one. Cremains are rendered inorganic by the high temperatures, reaching up to 900 degrees celsius, and as such they will never biodegrade. This means any cremains that have been scattered in the past remain there still.
This raises concerns as to how to safely distribute the cremains, but luckily there are many options! You can still scatter them in the environment, but it is good to do it in a careful way, spreading them out and not confining them in a small area. If you are wanting to scatter them in a creek for example, sprinkle them along a stretch of the embankment making sure they are evenly and thinly distributed. Do take care not to sprinkle them into any water body that is used for human consumption. Avoid spreading them on non-established plants or putting them into holes at the bases of trees.
There are many other more creative options available for cremation distribution in Australia, for example:
Living Legacy Forests scientifically treat the cremains and make them safe for trees, they then plant them at the base of their trees. By turning the cremains into plant food they are able to be absorbed by the trees and through the thousands of seeds that the tree produces they continue to perpetuate the circle of life. They have forests in Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and Wellington Dam in Western Australia.
Made With Love Monkeys – Keepsakes and Gifts use meaningful items of clothing or other fabric items and turn them into gorgeous soft toys and pillows which can be treasured forever. They are able to encase cremains into a sewn love heart pocket which is placed inside the item for safe keeping. They are based in Kilsyth, Victoria but service all of Australia via postal services.
Consious Clay turns “ashes into art” by using cremains in handmade ceramic keepsakes, providing the opportunity to connect with the loved one through the use of these beautiful works of art. Each vessel uses about 150 grams of cremains and takes about 8-12 weeks to create. Conscious Clay is based in Dunsborough, Western Australia but they service all of Australia and international clients via postal services.
Memorial Glass imbues cremains into beautiful, solid glass creations. These keepsakes range from pendants to glass orbs, comfort stones to jewellery, protecting the cremains from accidental spillage by confining them within the glass. Orders take around 4-8 weeks to complete and only require a small amount of cremains per vessel. Memorial Glass is based in Healesville, Victoria but services all of Australia via postal services.
Reef Balls mix cremains into a concrete mixture and form it into a large, holey ball which is then taken out into the ocean and dropped into the reef to form new habitat for fish, coral and other marine life. This option is available in Australia, currently there is at least one company in Western Australia however they have so far been unresponsive to messages and emails.
Photo credit: Eternal Reefs inc.
P.O. Box 3811
Sarasota, FL 34230-3811
Written byTamsin Ramone for Heaven and Earth Eco Burial Products pty ltd