Goodness Grief Balls

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March 20, 2014 by Tess Riley

This week I’ve been practising my celebratory wiggle dance. Why? Because my Guardian article about environmentally-friendly death-related activities was published on the front page of Guardian Online. Me? Delighted? You betcha.

Whether you’re keen to lead a greener lifestyle, death-style or both, have a read – the ideas are diverse and not purely mortality-related. And for those who opt for a greener burial as a result of reading this, I’m delighted – all I can say is rest in fleece.


Ten eco-friendly funeral ideas 

Fancy meeting your maker wrapped up in banana leaf, burying your loved one in a woollen eco-coffin or watching your pet’s ashes grow into a rosebush? For anyone interested in living a greener lifestyle, it’s time to start thinking about your death-style too.

Writing about ethical death is not easy. Some reading this may even be offended at the notion of the green reaper. But with world population now over seven billion and an estimated 150,000 deaths globally per day, it’s time we took the environmental impacts of death a little more seriously. With that in mind, here are 10 top tips for a greener journey’s end:

1. Grief Balls

Cremation is not a particularly sustainable way to go, but if that’s the way you choose, why not ensure your ashes are turned into something environmentally beneficial? Take Eternal Reefs, for example, which transforms cremated remains into artificial coral reefs or ‘reef balls’ to support marine life at a time when traditional reefs are undergoing significant deterioration.


2. Cut the gas

Dealing with ashes aside, an alternative to cremation comes in the form of resomation, which uses alkaline hydrolysis instead of fire to break down the body chemically, reducing a funeral’s greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 35%, according to Sustain. The sterile, DNA-free liquid that results is returned to the water cycle while the accompanying bone ash remains go in an urn to give to loved ones. The process needs to be regulated before it can take place, it is currently available in some US states and the company is awaiting the outcome of an approach to the UK government.

3. Urning your eco credits

Talking of urns, Bios Urn has created a fantastic, biodegradable urn, designed to host a tree seed. Once the urn is buried, the tree begins to grow, the urn then decomposes, and eventually the entire structure becomes part of the sub-soil and fertiliser for the tree.

4. Ashes to ashes, dust to… water hyacinth 

The rapidly growing market for bio-degradable coffins goes hand in hand with the rise in different materials available for burial. In Britain, wicker and cardboard remain the most common alternatives, but everything from banana leaf and water hyacinth to bamboo is now used. Wool too is rising in popularity – Hainsworth, one of the UK’s leading textile mills, reported a 700% rise in demand for its woollen coffins in 2011 to 2012.

5. Wood you believe it?

For those keen to stick to more traditional coffins, you don’t have to resort to mahogany, which is often used to make high-end wood caskets despite the fact that it comes from an endangered rainforest tree. Instead, it’s possible to opt for coffins made from sustainably sourced wood, such as the Reflections coffin, which is made from 80% waste wood and 20% FSC-certified wood, with a biodegradable cotton lining.

6. Meat-free meets

The immediate few days following someone’s death are often a complicated mix of mourning and practicalities; the eco possibilities for the latter are endless. For a start, plump for a meat-free wake. Even better, try and use locally sourced ingredients – a feast awaits you on your doorstep if you know where to look. A handy place to start is a local food directory, and tap into the microbrewery world for a top eco tipple.

7. Flower power

It’s common to send flowers to the bereaved. As thoughtful as this gesture is, cut flowers come at a high environmental price. One option is to ask for an ‘in lieu of flowers’ option at your funeral, with donations instead going to an eco-minded charity of your choice. Even without a specific request, there’s nothing stopping friends and family sending an alternative to a floral arrangement: a plant or tree that will live on; a self-care voucher for someone in mourning; or something practical like taking a few meals to the bereaved – at such a difficult time, small gestures of friendship can make all the difference.

memorial tree

8. Sharing rides

If you’re sending out invitations, it makes sense to encourage guests to offer one another lifts or use a website like GoCarShare to share a low-cost lift with a driver going in that direction anyway. If people have far to travel, follow the “train beats plane” rule when you can and keep that carbon footprint down.

9. Eco-house clearing

For those dealing with whatever’s been left behind after the execution of the will, projects such as Streetbank and Community RePaint are there to rehome the things you no longer need, helping strengthen communities in the process. If you need to spruce up a home before selling it on,Ecover range of environmentally-friendly products and Ecozone’s eco-balls are a winning combination.

10. And vinyly

Some choose to leave an environmental legacy in their wills. Others, however, may go a little off piste. For music lovers, for example, there’s an option to have your remains pressed into a vinyl with And Vinyly, which offers “a range of packages for people, parts of people and pets”. Not convinced? Check out their homepage blurb: ‘When the album that is life finally reaches the end, wouldn’t it be nice to keep that record spinning for eternity?’ It might not be the greenest option on here, but if you’ve managed to tick off all of the above…


If you enjoyed this blog, why not send it onto a couple of friends and see if they’d like to sign up to get my posts too. As Mrs Doyle would say: ‘go on. Go on go on go on go on…’ (If you’ve never seen Father Ted, you missed out).


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