Preparing for the Inevitable

by Christine Whyde, staff writer

MARCH 2021 – Millions of Americans are noticing an alarming trend as funeral costs continue to rise. According to a 2017 article by Business Insider, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the funeral costs and burial casket prices had increased by more than 230% since 1986 while all other commodities only rose 93% in comparison. This jump has caused many to choose cremation as a cost effective alternative, but there is not much of a difference in price. As of 2019 the National Funeral Directors Association found the average cost of a funeral to be $7,640 while a funeral with cremation was priced at $5,150. 

To combat these rising fees, many are choosing to pre-plan their services many years before their passing. This allows them to potentially pay for the entirety of their funerary care years in advance while locking in prices that will not increase. Although the costs may be comparable to that of a normal service, many are also beginning to seek out alternatives to traditional disposition (burial or cremation). 

One such option is an eternal reef. According to the official Eternal Reef website, “An Eternal Reef combines a cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial at sea into one meaningful, permanent environmental tribute to life.”

Cremated remains are mixed with ocean-safe cement to create artificial reef formations. These memorial formations are then placed onto the ocean floor to create habitats for marine life. 

People are able to give this company all or only a portion of the cremated remains of a loved one as well as remains of pets or additional family members. Families are able to participate in the creation of the formations if they wish and they may add personal touches such as a handprint. 

Prices depend on the size of the structure and attendance of loved ones, ranging from $2,995 to $7,495. Note that this does not include the initial cost of cremation that would be handled at a crematory or funeral home outside of the organization or any transportation of the family to witness when the formation is placed. Costs do include the presence of an inscribed plaque, transportation of the formation to the reef site, placement and dedication of the formation, and a specific GPS location of the reef. 

Another disposition alternative, similar to cremation, is called alkaline hydrolysis. The Cremation Association website describes the process: “Alkaline hydrolysis uses water, alkaline chemicals, heat, and sometimes pressure and agitation, to accelerate natural decomposition, leaving bone fragments and a neutral liquid called effluent.” By the end of the process, the body has decomposed in a way similar to burial with the aid of chemicals. The effluent is discharged along with the other waste products. 

Many people choose alkaline hydrolysis over cremation because it is considered to be a gentler process on the body. It is also seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation and burial.

Just like cremation, the body of the deceased will be transported to the facility by funerary professionals and the cremated remains will be delivered to the designated recipient. The main difference is the type of machine used and the process itself. It has also been found that alkaline hydrolysis results in 32% more cremated remains than those produced through traditional cremation. The price varies depending on the funeral home and state in which you are provided the service, but is generally at a similar price point to cremation. 

Unfortunately, those interested in this form of disposition may need to look outside of their home state. Currently, only 15 states allow alkaline hydrolysis and not all of them have trained professionals. This is largely due to confusion over the waste products, as many assume that toxic chemicals are being haphazardly released into the water treatment system. Only 5% of the solution in the machine contains chemicals and the waste product left over is heavily regulated before disposal.

Those seeking a more environmentally friendly form of disposition may also be interested in a green burial. 

A biodegradable casket offers a greener way to bury your loved ones.

For a burial to be officially considered a green burial, a number of guidelines must be followed. The deceased must be cared for with little impact on the environment unless in a way that aids conservation, reducing the emission of carbon, protecting the health of workers, or restoration/preservation of the habitat in which the body is to be buried. Typically this means that the body is not embalmed or goes through the process of cremation. 

The container in which the body is contained, whether that be a casket or urn, must be biodegradable. Green burial caskets can be made from everything from wicker to cardboard. 

Due to the criteria, lawn cemeteries are usually not acceptable for this type of burial as they may require vaults, concrete grave markers, or other disruptions to the environment. Designated “green” cemeteries do exist, such as the Foxfield Preserve located in Stark County, Ohio. 

Green cemeteries provide services like ash spreading and biodegradable burials.

To be buried at the Foxfield Preserve, an interment fee of at least $4000 must be paid. Each site allows for one full casket, one full casket with a set of cremated remains, or two sets of cremated remains. If burial is not required, cremated remains can be scattered onsite for a $250 fee. Other fees will be required depending on the desired service. 

Additionally, an individual seeking this type of disposition must work alongside a funeral home that offers such services. One such facility is local Bissler & Sons Funeral Home and Crematory located in Kent, Ohio. 

There are many other alternatives and things that may be added to traditional funerary services that may be more accessible. Some of these include incorporating cremated remains into jewelry, tattoo ink, a toy, or even a vinyl record. Others may choose to scatter the remains in one or more areas of significance. As far as burial, some may be interested in burial at sea or, if legally permitted, having a loved one buried on private property rather than a cemetery. Regardless of the disposition or how young one may be, it is imperative that Americans start planning ahead of time. Afterall, death and deathcare is inevitable and they have a cost. 

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