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7+ Alternatives to Traditional Burial and Cremation

Many people think about how they want to impact the world while they are alive, but most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they’ll impact the world after they’ve died. While cremation and traditional burial continue to be the leading disposition options in the United States, there are now many options for those interested in thinking outside the box (quite literally).

Here are 10 alternatives you may not have thought of:

1. Go green.

Demand for eco-friendly disposition options continues to increase, leading to a growing numbers of green cemeteries, certified by the Green Burial Council. Some of the key factors of a green burial include foregoing embalming (or embalming with environmentally friendly products), the use of biodegradable burial containers or shrouds, and grave marker restrictions aimed at preserving natural views. On top of the environmental benefits, supporters often feel it’s a more natural contribution to the cycle of life.

2. Rest at sea.

Originally used primarily for those who died while serving in the navy, interest in full-body burials at sea is increasing, both from those seeking a more eco-friendly burial option, as well as those who felt a connection to the ocean, and appreciate the symbolism. If you go this route, your body will be put overboard in a biodegradable, weighted shroud. Be forewarned, though: due to the need to charter a boat and comply with regulations, a full-body burial at sea can easily cost upwards of $10,000.

3. Liquify yourself.

Alkaline hydrolysis is emerging as a new alternative to cremation. The process involves submerging a body in a heated alkali solution of potassium hydroxide (KOH). This mimics the body’s natural process of breaking down, but takes only a few hours, instead of many years. Alkaline hydrolysis is also recognized as a greener alternative, using a fraction of the energy of standard cremation. You’ll need to check if it’s available where you live, though; as of early 2018, it has only been legalized in 15 states.

4. Contribute to modern medicine.

Donated cadavers play an important role in medical training and research, and many medical schools have an anatomical gift program. Medical students often use donated cadavers to learn anatomy and surgery techniques before cutting into a living person. As an added perk, most medical schools cover the costs of transportation (generally within a specified vicinity), as well as cremation once they have finished their use of the cadaver, making it one of the most affordable methods of disposition.

5. Fight crime.

Donating your body to a forensic research facility will help teach forensic students important factors about body decomposition and influence guidance given to police for evaluating crime scenes – meaning you could be helping professionals solve real crimes. Similar to donating your body to a medical school, the institution will generally cover transportation and disposition costs. Unfortunately facilities are limited, but you may want to explore this options if you live in Colorado, Texas, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee or North Carolina.

6. Become art.

If you’re passionate about art or health, you may want to consider turning your body into an actual art exhibit for BodyWorlds. The series of exhibits has attracted over 44 million visitors on six continents and helps to teach people about the inner workings of the human body.

7. Make cars safer.

Research universities, such as Wayne State, use cadavers to help improve car safety through crash test simulations. While research facilities are limited, donated cadavers have been involved in key car safety updates since the 1930’s, including the effects of side impact airbags and laminated windshields. In his paper, “Humanitarian benefits of cadaver research on injury prevention," Albert King estimated that cadaver use in car safety studies had saved 8,500 lives per year.

8. Return to soil.

On May 1st, 2020, Washington state became the first state to allow legal human composting as a method of disposition for the deceased. If you choose this method of disposition, your body will naturally decompose and will become usable soil that's returned to your family. The soil can be used to plant trees, start a garden, or can be spread somewhere of your choosing. Check out this article on human composting if becoming soil feels like the right fit for you.

9. Become a tree.

Companies like Better Forests allow families to mix their loved one's ashes with soil at the base of their chosen tree. Wildflower seeds are then spread on top of the space, contributing to the forest's growth. This is another great option for those who want to remain close to the cycle of life in nature.

10. Send your ashes into space.

If you prefer to leave our atmosphere and be sent into the unknown, you can choose to have your ashes sent into space with companies like Celestis. You have multiple options of placement and orbit, including the option to have your cremains (or DNA) sent to the moon itself!

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Last updated June 15, 2022
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