Dear Umbra,

What’s the greenest method of disposing of one’s corpse? I’m just dying to know.

Austin, Texas

Dearest Buchacha,

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You are not the only one thinking of the Great Green Beyond; there are more choices about the fate of your corpse than you might imagine. Let’s start with the traditional options: Cremation is greener than burial, for (at least) three reasons. First, embalming (which is common although not mandatory) uses noxious chemicals to preserve the body. Second, the impenetrable bunkers that are the latest trend in caskets won’t biodegrade anytime soon. Finally, cemeteries are usually high-maintenance parks full of pesticide-laden lawns kept trim by gasoline-powered mowers. Cremation is not a wholly green process, since incineration does produce some air pollutants — but at least your ashes, unlike your casket-fortified body, can return to the earth from whence they came.

But enough about those stale, old disposal methods. The modern death industry has given you more colorful options. If you seek to truly be a part of the earth, you could be cremated and have your ashes incorporated into artificial coral reefs. These large concrete blocks are being used to restore coastal fish habitat, and though your remains are not a vital part of the process, some companies (such as Eternal Reefs) offer you the option of becoming a post-mortem part of ecological restoration. Your relations could scuba to your watery grave. If you wish to be closer to your family, a better choice might be to have yourself condensed into a low-carat artificial diamond. (Many diamonds, in fact: You are a carbon-based gem quarry.)

Don’t fear the reefer.

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Reefs and rocks aren’t particularly ecological — just astoundingly entrepreneurial. For sheer environmental value, there are better innovations in the funeral business. A woman in Sweden is perfecting a process that uses liquid nitrogen to reduce the body to dust, avoiding incinerator pollution. And a group in South Carolina is developing alternative cemeteries that are maintained as wild areas, with no pavement, lawns, or headstones. You can be scattered or buried unembalmed in a simple pine casket or a burlap bag and lay among the deer and crows (see below).

If money is no object and you are feeling entrepreneurial yourself, make a family graveyard in the back 40, as ecological as you please. Call your state government to learn about the licensing steps and associated costs. Whatever option you choose, the most important step is to make your wishes as clear as you can while you’re still alive and kicking.


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