Imagine if every major city had its own forest and all the trees were marked with names of the dead; living graves which honor loved ones and curb global warming through reforestation. Pine, spruce, oak, dogwood, coral, birch, giant redwood, or flowering cherry; each a sustainable memorial that will arrest CO2 indefinitely. This beautiful idea is made possible by new biodegradable funerary urns that use the ashes of the deceased to nurture a seedling.
Richard Houghton of the Woods Hole Research Center has estimated that around 500 million acres of planted trees would make a very significant impact on global warming in just a few decades. If that sounds like a lot of land, consider that in the current global population of 7.153 billion roughly 56 million people die each year, and that number is expected to increase to 80 million per year by 2040. Given that it takes as many as seven bio-urns to hold all the ashes of an average adult and thus seven planted trees, cemetery forests could easily cover more than 500 million acres in less than a decade.
Where can all those trees be planted? Ideally they would be close to home as traditional cemeteries have always been, but as to the amount of available space there is roughly 10 times that amount of land in pasture right now, so there would be no need to use land required for crop production. In addition to their power to curb global warming, a forest of trees planted where new graves would be laid would improve biodiversity by replacing the natural areas lost to urban sprawl and deforestation.
The biodegradable urns work by combining the ashes of the deceased, which on their own would be harmful to plants, with a mix of other natural substances that allow the plant to utilize the calcium in ashes. In this way the remains of the loved on literally become part of the tree.
With a product called Spiritree, the tree seed of your choice is planted in the center of a biodegradable cinerary urn that looks somewhat like a ceramic doughnut. The remains are sprinkled into the bottom shell and covered by a ceramic top. Over time the tree gradually consumes the biodegradable bottom shell, and as it grows it breaks the ceramic top.
Another product, Eterni Trees, offers a wide variety of pre-mixed cremation urns which contain the seed of a tree and nutrient mix. Five to seven of these urns are needed to hold all the ashes of an adult as each only holds a small mount. Alternatively, Bios Urn can hold much more ashes, but its included nutrient system is not designed specifically for absorbing the nutrients from the ashes. They recommend burying the urn with a plant or bud as opposed to a seed to ensure germination and growth, or to bury the urn next to an existing tree.
The simplicity of these products allows for loved ones to be planted on private residences. While tree cemeteries would go a long way towards reforestation and biodiversity, a single tree planted in a home garden with a loved one’s ashes will still benefit the environment. Planting trees to replace graves is also an option for families who want to honor a deceased pet, and kids can feel good that Fido went on to curb global warming.
By Mimi Mudd