Nothing is impervious to change, including the way we bury and memorialize the dead. Factors such as our society’s increasing emphasis on sustainability and the rise of the digital age have led to significant changes in funerals, burials, and cremations. Here are some recent developments that could shape the trends for funerals of the future.
Increased Cremation Rates, With Eco-Friendly Methods
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, people have been moving toward cremation instead of traditional burials. In 2019, 55.1% of deceased individuals are expected to be cremated – a number that experts project rising to 71.6% by 2030. Cremations generally cost less than full-service burials, which may explain part of this trend. However, the cremation process itself has its own drawbacks, including air pollution and using a lot of energy to break down a human body.
Now, a more eco-friendly cremation option is water cremation, also known as “aquamation”. During this process, the cremator places the body into a machine with an alkaline solution (hence the technical term for the process--alkaline hydrolysis). The machine is heated and pressurized, and it breaks down the body into sterilized liquid and bone in about three to four hours. This process only uses about 1/8 of the energy that standard fire cremation uses.
It remains to be seen what percentage of cremations will be performed by water instead of fire in the years to come, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see aquamation continue to gain momentum.
Recompose (formerly Urban Death Project), an organization based in Seattle, Washington, has developed a process to compost human bodies in urban areas. On May 21, 2019, Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5001 which legalized natural organic reduction, or “the contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil”. The law will go into effect on May 1, 2020. This process turns bodies into soil, allowing for families to take home the soil and use to grow new plants from the remains.
A similar organization in Sweden called the Promessa Organic Company is developing another human composting process. Unlike the Recompose, Promessa’s process involves freezing and quickly breaking down the body.
Regardless of which method catches on, it is obvious there is a lot of attention being given to green disposal of human remains, especially in urban areas.
Space Burial: Become a Shooting Star
As room for cemeteries becomes more and more scarce, people are looking for alternatives with little or no footprint. Instead of keeping their remains on planet Earth, some people are exploring the option of space as their final resting place.
Elon Musk’s tech company SpaceX announced in 2017 that it developed a method to send ashes into space at the low price of $2,490. Through the SpaceX program, the company receives cremated ashes, which they place into a customized capsule. A spacecraft carries the capsule into space and goes into lunar orbit for about two years. Eventually, the spacecraft re-enters earth’s atmosphere and the ashes burn up as a shooting star.
Digital Signage and Tombstones
More and more funeral homes are integrating digital displays with their services. Whether they display a slideshow of memorial photographs or guide guests to a funeral’s location, these signs allow for increased customization for funerals.
In addition, digital tombstones, while still in their infancy, are constantly being refined. A Slovenian company developed a tombstone that displays digital content reflective of the deceased’s life.
Expect to see technology continue to play an increasing role in allowing a deceased person’s legacy to live on in the digital world.