Cremation is the choice of approximately 50% of California residents with the national average being approximately 38%. The Cremation Association of North America estimates the national cremation rate will rise to 45% by 2025. Surveys show that Americans primarily choose cremation because it costs less and is more simple to arrange and carry out. The second most popular reason Americans choose cremation is because it preserves land.
Cremation is relatively green when compared with conventional burial involving a metal or hardwood casket, concrete vault and formaldehyde-based embalming. Modern crematories are designed to burn more efficiently and to scour combustion gases before releasing them into the atmosphere. The more sophisticated crematories funnel cremation-after gases into wet scrubbers or very large filters to further reduce the emission of pollutants into the atmosphere. However, even these methods of filtration cannot eliminate all of the pollutants generated by the incineration of a human body. Primary emissions are made up of carbon monoxide and fine soot, but sulfur dioxide and trace metals may also be produced.
Because of the toxicity to living organisms, the cremation byproduct of most concern is mercury. During the cremation process the mercury from old dental fillings is vaporized and released into the environment. Despite the release of mercury, the Environmental Protection Agency studied the mercury levels surrounding crematories in the US and found that mercury levels were still within acceptable levels.
The typical cremation conducted in a modern crematory requires an average of 28 gallons of fuel (about the amount of fuel that can be held in an SUV gas tank). This translates in the release of approximately 540 pounds of carbons dioxide (CO2) into the environment per cremation. Given the amount of fossil fuel the average American consumes during their lifetime, their individual cremation makes a relatively minor contribution.
For those who are interested, we also calculated the approximate CO2 emission per year in the US as a result of cremation. Assuming 2.4 million deaths in a year (2009 CDC data), a 38% national cremation rate (2009 data from the Cremation Association of North America), and a release of 540 pounds of CO2 per cremation, we estimate that each year 246,240 tons of CO2 are put into the environment as a result of cremation.
If you are considering cremation but are concerned about the environmental impact, consider choosing a more fuel-efficient cremation container (shroud, cardboard container, or cremation casket), and participating in a disposition program that has some positive environmental purpose, such as creating marine habitat (see Eternal Reefs). A few funeral homes offset the carbon produced by their cremations to minimize the impact on global warming by investing in wind or solar energy. Others may plant a tree to offset carbon emissions.
Green burial is another option for those concerned with the environmental impact of cremation. Green burial can actually result in the preservation and stewarding of land, allowing a person to use their death to increase the amount of protected land in the country. See the Green Burial Council website for a list of certified burial grounds.
For more information about natural green burial in Nevada County, call the Nevada Cemetery District directly (530) 265-3461.
The information provided using this web site is only intended to be general summary information to the public. It is not intended to take the place of either the written law or regulations. The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorse the views expressed within them.