In Hawai‘i, we’ve developed a rich social discourse around issues of sustainability impacting our communities and environment during our lifetimes. The ever-increasing level of consciousness regarding single-use plastics, reusable bags, clean energy and more is an encouraging sign. But what about the eco-impact of our decisions about end-of-life space? Each year in Hawai‘i, we bury an average of 3,400 imported caskets constructed from non-biodegradable materials such as metal, polyester, lacquer, caustic glue, rubber and formaldehyde. We additionally inter hundreds of gallons of hyper-toxic embalming fluid. These are materials we would never bury on any other day of the year in our backyards. So how have we arrived at a place where our lifestyle choices for the environment look markedly different from our end-of-life choices?
We live in a society where conversations about mortality are largely uncomfortable, disintegrated and oftentimes taboo. The unintended consequence is that the eco-implications of our very impactful choices in this space are also not discussed. When we don’t engage, we’re not able to make fully informed decisions and instead, fall back on what is traditionally offered. Funeral homes typically provide a standard catalog with dozens of casket options — very few of which are biodegradable. Given these items are intended to be buried in our beloved land, they should, at a minimum, be able to return to the earth.
The wonderful news is the Federal Trade Commission has established the Funeral Rule, a comprehensive set of rights and protections we all enjoy as consumers in the death space. It includes, among many other privileges, the ability to purchase a casket from any source, regardless of where you’re buried or cremated. This allows families time for an unmediated, online search from the comfort of home. It also affords them the opportunity to procure an environmentally conscious option in the event the funeral home does not offer one. The Funeral Rule is an empowering protection that allows us to leave a clean eco-legacy for future generations.