Are Electric Crematoriums really eco-friendly?
There goes our beloved Aunt!! “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust“, but here ashes to air and dust to water. .There are only two times in life when you pause and think about your usefulness. Last month was a traumatic one for us as we lost one of our most loved family member ‘ a guardian to many destitute, trafficked women whom she rehabilitated’.
This was a first time for me to attend Hindu funeral ceremonies. I had attended many funerals in the past but none of people belonging to this faith. She, though a staunch believer in rituals, wanted a green funeral followed by all the traditional prayers and feasts which are observed for the departed soul. The crematorium grounds were the best place in the middle of an otherwise noisy polluted city. Peaceful, full of greenery, fragrant breeze and exceptionally quite.
All this so very environmentally perfect. Not like the funerals on the Ghats of Varanasi where the smoke and stench of burning flesh keeps on circulating in the nearby popular shopping areas including the Kashi Vishwanath Temple area.
Being an Eco-Nut I had always disliked the idea of burning. Cutting of trees , emission of GHG and other poisonous gases plus polluting the water bodies are all environmental catastrophes. So I was eager to be a part of a this green effort. All the ceremonies were done according to religious texts including “Mukhagni” before starting the process. There was a way for the skull breaking ritual too once the body was inside but no one actually follows that. Anyway this was a green bonus for the people opting this way to pass on to the other world. Nothing was left out which could hamper the soul’s salvation.
Inside the furnace was all glowing and sparking due to extreme heat at 1000+ C. A lot of power had been used up which must have been generated by some fossil fuel somewhere. Still some solace that the visual environmental effects like cutting of trees and polluting smoke were not there.
Then it was a great disappointment for me. Thick black smoke started coming out of the chimney once funeral commenced. The Chimney not being very high the entire smoke was coming down on us sitting out in the grounds. Along with the body clothes, spectacles, dental fillings and other external things also were burning and releasing toxic fumes on us. A more philosophical person would say that she was blessing us by spreading her energy and warmth on all of us.
Due to many awareness campaigns electric crematoriums have became favourite of eco-friendly community, but this is exactly “jumping from pan to fire”. It has now become the way how we Indians work. Without evaluating pros and cons. Looking for ‘Panacea’ every where and in every thing, to be free from further improvement and innovation. Recent panacea is Solar.
Anyway there are people out there who consider electric cremation as panacea for our pollution problems. They work hard to spread this awareness and in the process sometimes even get beaten up for their efforts by traditionalists, fundamentalists and other opportune people. To them my message is to think , analyse and innovate on the following aspects to make it a real “Green Goodbye”.
Energy- Energy has to come from somewhere and current power generation is by fossil fuels only. Using Solar power electric crematoriums will solve the first problem of this way of funeral. Technology exits and feasibility studies in india are also done. Gujrat has began the trials in India  and all the crematoriums should follow it.
Smoke- I couldn’t find references to smokeless crematoriums as everyone concentrates on smoke from the wood and not the smoke of the body. I mentioned earlier about the chimney being very low . Unfortunately the design of a crematorium has not changed for more that hundred years now. They look same as the ones being made by Europeans in 19th centaury. Same height of chimney same brick structure. Took this photo from the blog of Subhadip showing how it looked then.
Since this was not used often nobody thought about the smoke much.
There are certain ways to reduce particulate in some crematoriums outside india. During the burning process, a second column of flame is fired up in a secondary chamber to burn off any particles or dust in the air leaving the retort, in order to reduce emissions, smoke and odors. Some retorts also have a wet scrubber in the emissions stack that sprays a mist of water so that escaping particles become trapped . Maybe technology of a good waste to energy incinerator can be introduced to facilitate smokeless burning in such crematoriums. Only then it will be a fully green process.
Segregation- As we emphasize segregating waste (I am not saying your loved one is waste) at home for proper disposal we should try to remove toxic smoke generators from a body like plastics, synthetic clothes, footwear, watches and other ornaments and if possible dental fillings and implants.
My personal opinion about the best Green Goodbye is to bury without a casket, leave it out for scavengers or the saponification funeral. Any takers? http://www.solare-bruecke.org/infoartikel/Papers_20from_SCI_Conference_2006/22_wolfgang_scheffler.pdf http://rsisinternational.org/Issue4/01-09.pdf http://solarthermalworld.org/content/india-first-solar-crematorium-trial-phase http://indianvagabond.com/2015/11/21/a-french-crematorium-for-the-christians-and-brahmos-of-calcutta/ https://archive.org/stream/guidanceforincin01torouoft/guidanceforincin01torouoft_djvu.txt