Image via Eternal Reefs/Facebook
By Jackie Lam
It’s hard enough to deal with the grief of losing a pet, but then you have to consider whether you’ll want to have a pet funeral on top of that. If you do decided to say goodbye to your cherished pet by having a ceremony, you might consider an eco-friendly pet burial.
Fortunately, you have options for how to go about this—maybe more than you think. Here are four dignified ways to celebrate the life of a beloved pet with an eco-friendly pet burial.
Use a Biodegradable Pet Burial Box
A pet burial at home or in a cemetery is desirable for many owners, and understandably so. “The experience of placing a loved one's remains in the ground is profound,” says cultural anthropologist Eric Greene, founder of the Green Pet-Burial Society and its host organization, Family Spirals. “It signifies the ways in which we regard the natural world and our place in it.”
However, it’s important to be aware that some caskets include materials like plastic and metal that don’t break down underground. Greene recommends using a cotton shroud or a nontoxic, biodegradable casket. One available option for large cats or medium-size dogs is the Paw Pods biodegradable large pod casket. It comes in several smaller sizes as well.
These pet burial boxes can be used for various pets; With the Paw Pods biodegradable fish pod casket, for example, you can provide your pet fish with a proper burial. These pods are biodegradable and are made from materials such as bamboo powder, rice husk and cornstarch. They are designed to break down within three to five years after burial, which allows adequate time for the natural decomposition process to take effect.
If you’re thinking about having a pet funeral in your backyard, there are a few things to keep in mind. “Firstly, it may be illegal in certain localities,” Greene says—so take the time to look up any restrictive ordinances in your area. “Secondly, one needs to recognize that if one moves or sells the land, the gravesite will no longer be accessible to them, and new owners may develop the land and disrupt the grave.”
Find a Green Pet Cemetery
Where environmental friendliness is concerned, not all pet cemeteries are created equal. The Green Pet-Burial Society has established standards for what constitutes a green pet cemetery.
Some of their green classifications include low-impact pet cemeteries, which exclusively use biodegradable shrouds and pet burial boxes, and natural pet-burial grounds, which limit landscaping and employ eco-friendly pest management techniques. While the Green Pet-Burial Society supports the certification program of the Green Burial Council (GBC), they do not certify green pet cemeteries. However, they do certify human cemeteries with a separate pet section as well as green Whole-Family Cemeteries that provide full-body burials of pets’ remains in family plots.
Still, if you opt to use a pet cemetery, Greene has a word of warning: “Most pet cemeteries throughout the US are not deeded in perpetuity.” According to the Green Pet-Burial Society, a pet cemetery that is “deeded in perpetuity” means that the land cannot be sold and developed for other purposes.
Just like in your backyard, your pet’s grave could be disturbed if the cemetery land is sold. “Look for a pet cemetery that is legally deeded in perpetuity,” Greene says.
One way to avoid that legal headache is to consider a conservation whole-family cemetery, in which a family’s pet may be buried in the family’s cemetery plot. “Since these cemeteries bury human remains, we are assured that it is deeded in perpetuity,” Greene says. “When it is a conservation cemetery, the land is also protected as a nature preserve, and one's remains become part of the wondrous cycle of life.”
Consider Aquamation Instead of Cremation
For many owners, pet cremation is preferable to a cemetery burial, and urns for pet ashes, like the AngelStar dog urn, are less costly than a grave. There is a process that is significantly more eco-friendly than cremation. Aquamation uses a process called alkaline hydrolysis to produce results similar to cremation at a lower energy cost.
“Aquamation replicates what occurs in nature when a body is buried,” says Jerry Shevick, CEO of Peaceful Pets Aquamation, Inc. “In the ground, the body reacts to alkali, moisture and heat. Aquamation uses all of those elements to accelerate the natural process.” The result is a small amount of mineral ash, which you can memorialize in an urn just as you would ash from a traditional cremation.
When it comes to energy consumption, the two processes couldn’t be more different. “The environmental impact of aquamation is in a different universe compared to cremation,” says Shevick. “It uses 1/20th of the energy and has 1/10th of the carbon footprint.” Because of his company’s switch to aquamation, Shevick projects that it will save 750,000 pounds of toxic emissions from being spewed into the environment.
Finding an aquamation specialist is much like finding a crematory, Shevick says. “Since this is an unregulated business, you need to find someone you trust.”
One thing you can look for is a certification from Green America, an organization that evaluates businesses to ensure environmental sustainability and responsibility.
Include Your Pet in an Eternal Reef
An eco-friendly pet burial doesn’t have to happen on land. If you like the sound of an aquatic pet memorial that promotes marine life, consider including your pet in an Eternal Reef.
These undersea tributes incorporate the cremated remains of a loved one into a concrete “Eternal Reef,” which is placed on the ocean floor, where it fosters new growth in the marine environment.
As Eternal Reefs CEO George Frankel explains, “Because Eternal Reefs uses a proprietary, pH-neutral, natural cement mixture which Mother Nature ‘likes,’ significant new marine life forms in as little as 90 days.” Once placed, the reef becomes a permanent part of the marine ecosystem, where it not only creates new life but helps to replenish existing, natural reefs.
Pets are so often included with owners in Eternal Reefs that Frankel says, “It is a rare dedication when we do NOT have a pet involved.” However, he encourages pet owners to hold on to cremated remains until the time comes to memorialize a human loved one, because a pet’s remains can be incorporated with an owner’s at no additional cost.
Once the reef has been placed, Eternal Reefs provides its GPS coordinates, should visitors wish to boat, fish or scuba dive at the pet memorial site.
While there’s no joy to be had in planning a pet funeral, if you’re green-conscious, you do have choices. It’s more than possible to plan a send-off that both nurtures the environment and, most importantly, honors your pet.