While it takes a lot of energy to cremate a body, roughly equivalent to driving 4,800 miles, you might be surprised by the level of carbon emissions released from cremation — in terms of pollution, a deceased person will cremate cleaner than a Big Mac. Measured in un-burnt particles per hour, a restaurant cooking burgers releases .46 lbs/hr. and the cremation process emits only .08 lbs/hr. In addition, many crematoriums use a series of filters to catch your toxins as they float away.
In comparison burials have many environmental downsides — partly stemming from the amount of work done on the deceased for the funeral. Embalming fluids that are used to preserve the deceased, a somewhat wasteful practice, contain chemicals like formaldehyde, methanol, phenol — which can seep out and eventually make their way into the groundwater. An estimated 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid are buried in the U.S. each year.
Add that to the casket, another standard funeral accessory. While there are eco-friendly alternatives, traditional caskets are often made out of rare woods and are sometimes coated with toxic sealants or paints. It’s like buying a small car, and immediately burying it — all to protect your body from the elements. It is estimated that cemeteries put 30 million feet of hardwood, 104,272 tons of steel, and 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete into the ground every year.