holding a plant in a hand

What will funerals look like in future?

Climate change is already affecting the way we live – many of us are switching to electric cars, taking fewer flights and recycling as much as possible. But what about the end of life? How can we hold environmentally friendly funerals too?

Recent research shows that concern for the environment is becoming a more important part of our funeral planning. ‘Those who have worked hard to reduce their carbon footprint in life are just as passionate about reducing their impact on the planet when they pass,’ says Sam Tyrer, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare.

Many people are aware that eco-friendly funerals exist, but if you've not been to one yourself you could be left wondering what's involved and unsure about whether it's the right choice for you.

Mayfields

Eco-funerals of the future

As our interest in environmentally friendly funerals grows – and the global population also increases – what will green funerals look like in future? How can we balance out our traditional plans for a final farewell with the need to save space and carbon emissions?

Some experts are already working on the answers. These 3 eco-friendly funeral trends are predicted to be among the most popular in the next few decades.

Water cremation

It may sound impossible, but you can be ‘cremated’ by water, a process also known as aquamation, resomation or alkaline hydrolysis. The body of the person who died is placed into a large steel tube or container, then heat, water and certain chemicals – including sodium hydroxide – break it down, leaving only the bones, which can then be cremated.

Water cremation is said to mimic and speed up what naturally happens when someone is buried but it has a smaller environmental impact; there’s no coffin to break down and no chemicals or heavy metals, like mercury from fillings, go into the earth. It’s not yet available in the UK but some companies are planning to open water crematoriums here soon.

Water cremation is happening in other countries around the world. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was aquamated in South Africa, in January 2022, bringing the process into the public eye.

Human composting

This is exactly what it sounds like; the body is broken down and turned into soil or compost. It’s placed into a coffin-like container with wood chips, alfalfa and straw, then pure oxygen is added to help microbes and natural bacteria break everything down. In 30 days, only nutrient-rich soil is left, which can then be used for growing trees or plants.

The method, also called recomposing or natural organic reduction, is already used to safely compost livestock. Recompose, are the only firm currently offering the service in America, say it’s very environmentally friendly as it stops up to 1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released, compared with traditional cremation or burials, every time the service is used.

Funeral tree pods

You may have heard about woodland burials, but this idea takes things a step further. The body is placed into a large, egg-shaped ‘eco pod’ made from natural materials, and buried in the ground. A tree is then planted on top, using the nutrients to grow and become a lasting memorial to your loved one.

Tree pods are still in the planning stages but the designers hope they will one day transform traditional cemeteries into ‘vibrant woodlands, where families can stroll and learn about nature’. And what could be more eco-friendly than that?

woodland burial image

Today’s green funeral choices

You don’t have to wait 20 or 30 years for a more environmentally friendly funeral. Apart from choosing a natural or woodland burial, there’s a number of tweaks you can make to a traditional celebration. Sam says, ‘We’re committed to helping the bereaved and their loved ones have a final farewell that does not adversely impact the environment.’

Why not go for a coffin created with sustainably managed raw materials, like willow, or an urn made from natural materials such as bamboo or banana leaves? You could also have an electric hearse – we’re starting to introduce electric and hybrid hearses to our fleet, and plan to phase out all fossil fuel vehicles over the next 10 years.

Whatever you decide to do, remember, the main goal is to help the environment.

Ask your funeral director for more eco-friendly funeral ideas, or help to arrange a natural burial. If you want advice on organising a personalised funeral, see our guides.