Green burial is any form of body disposition which is environmentally friendly (and generally far more affordable!) Sounds great, right? That is, until the ground in question is more solid than last year’s forgotten ice cream cake. So what happens when you die in winter? Here are five ways to conduct a green burial in a Winter Wonderland. Warning: the details of cold weather burial may not fill you with holiday cheer.
In olden times, a winter death meant months of waiting for the ground to thaw before anything could be done with the body. Corpses were kept in a cemetery’s receiving vault. Today, a refrigerator or holding casket may be used along with or instead of embalming to preserve the body until Spring. But in general, technology has advanced enough that patience isn’t generally the best tool for the job; mortuaries generally don’t keep bodies for more than a couple of weeks these days.
These days, what happens when you die in winter isn’t that different than spring—apart from a few tools. Some graveyard workers treat the earth as if it were concrete, breaking up frozen soil and adding fresh. Unlike tradition burial, green burial does not take place in a concrete vault—the body is simply covered in an eco-friendly shroud or bio-degradable casket so six feet under may be overkill. This makes for an easier task than traditional burial, especially in winter.
Like a seat warmer for your final resting place, ground thawers can be placed in a dug up plot before the storm and turned on after as with propane tanks and subterrainian heaters. Alternately, there’s the ol’ electric blanket method of warming the ground from top up. A little help can make the ground penetrable even in the coldest of winters. Some cemeteries will even go super old school and build a campfire.
This form of ‘green cremation’ shows plenty of promise—if you can get past the ick factor. Here, the body goes into a casket filled with liquid nitrogen. The body freeze-dries at a temperature around -200 Celsius and gets shaken up vigorously into a powder. Think the last bits in a bag of freeze dried mangoes (hey, we warned you!). Heavy metals are separated out from the dust using a magnet and the remaining ‘ashes’ can be planted in a biodegradable urn or scattered as the family wishes. The body’s nutrients then mix with the soil to nurture future life.
Alkaline hydrolysis, or aquamation, is water’s answer to cremation. The bog bodies of Europe have taught us what happens when you die in acidic waters—think pickled pigs feet. Naturally, it would follow that highly basic waters would have the opposite effect, dissolving flesh entirely. Turns out hot, vigorously rushing water with a basic PH is as effective as effective at body disposition as fire. After hours in a stainless steel pod, all that’s left is bone. Instead of getting ashes back, the family gets a fine, pearly white powder—the skeletal remains ground into a powder. The carbon footprint of alkaline hydrolysis is about a fifth that of cremation making it an increasingly popular choice in states where it’s been legalized like California. Learn more about aquamation in our podcast with Resting Waters pet aquamation facility in Seattle.
For the marine lover who wants to swim with the fishes even after death, there’s sea burial. The body is taken out on a boat in a designated area and dropped in the ocean in a bio-degradable burial bag. This can make for a picturesque funeral service—think sunset yacht ride with champagne and maybe even a dolphin sighting. Who said death can’t be beautiful?
The When You Die team is committed to bringing death back into our everyday conversations as an integral part of our human journey.