Biodegradable Urns: What you Need to Know

By Susan Fraser -March 19,2019

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Updated on 11/13/20

Here are some questions and answers to common questions around Biodegradable Urns.

People think about their carbon footprint constantly, even until their dying days. And in fact, somewhat after. Funerary experts are working on offering less damaging options for environmentally friendly burial.

Green burials and biodegradable urns are good examples. But what is a biodegradable urn, and what does it mean for a person’s final rest? Here's some answers to your questions.

What Does Biodegradable Mean?

Biodegradable means materials can break down on its own without leaving harmful toxins behind.green footprint

However, the finer points are more difficult to understand. Just because something is listed as biodegradable doesn’t mean it will easily fall apart anywhere. Packaging marketed as compostable might take less than 10 days to degrade in the right situation. Without that arrangement, it may take much longer. 

For people who worry about their carbon footprint, the environmental nature of their final rest also matters. Considering green cremation and opting for a biodegradable urn could be a way to help families achieve this goal with minimal energy consumption and waste.
 It’s worth keeping in mind, though, that biodegradable and green do not mean the same thing. Some materials left in the environment are green and non-toxic, but they are not biodegradable.

What is a Biodegradable Urn?

A biodegradable urn is a cremation urn that will decompose without leaving any negative effect on the environment. A good example of Biodegradable urns are the Peaceful Petal meant for water burial that slips under the water in a few minutes. Similar is the Original Green Burial Basket, made for a land burial. It is made out of plant fibers and won't break down until buried. It also offers a biodegradable bag for the ashes.

Do Bones decompose?

Bones do not decompose.

Burial places come and go. Ashes, like diamonds, are forever. This is because cremated remains are not actually ashes. After a body is cremated, all that is left are portions of bone.

The funeral home breaks down the pieces into something that looks like sand. These ashes are made of a mineral called calcium phosphate.

skull
 
Ashes are like very small rocks, rocks last forever. The bones of the oldest descendants of humans still look like bones 3 million years later. This means that people should think about their plans to dispose of the ashes related to their goal for the memorial or burial.

As something that never breaks down from its current form, bones are not biodegradable by definition. Families who are looking for a biodegradable urn as a means of transport or as a beautiful container for a burial might not find this a conflict.

What Are Biodegradable Urns Made Of?

 Most biodegradable urns will be made of these ingredients: 

  • • paper
  •  • cardboard 
  • • wood fibers 
  • • sand 
  • • dissolvable minerals like salt.

salt urnIn order to qualify as a biodegradable urn, the item has to be made from something that breaks down easily. Imagining how long an urn might take to turn into a vegetable or mineral in a landfill is a good approach. Something artificial like Styrofoam definitely doesn’t qualify, simply because it never decays. 

However, a material as natural and ancient as ceramic also doesn’t fit the bill. This is because ceramic will not break down over time. If it has certain kinds of glazing, the ceramic might also have some toxic properties.

Paper urns can turn into dirt in about 2-6 weeks.

Wood urns will last a few days or hundreds of years, depending on where it’s put.

 

Sand urns and salt urns can survive a really long time in a dry place.sand urn

They earn a spot because they can incorporate seamlessly into their environment. That’s the major point of biodegradability in the first place. In many cases, the urn comes with a bag in which to place the ashes. 

To count in any type of burial that needs a biodegradable container, the bag must also degrade quickly. The bag could be made of plant materials like corn starch that dissolve promptly in water.

Where Can Biodegradable Urns Be Placed?

Biodegradable urns feature more flexibility in placement than some other kinds. Of course, it depends on the spot.  For any disposition of ashes, people need to follow the local laws.

There are federal and state rules dictating how ashes can be placed on public land or water. Families should always ask before carrying out a plan, especially if it’s on private property. water burial

The purpose of this type of urn is that it will break down quickly. It won’t be a useful option for families who plan to place the urn permanently in the open air, like a cremation niche. In the case of burial or scattering on land or in water, biodegradable could be an excellent way to go.

Scattering ashes has some practical and ethical concerns, as well. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Anyone who keeps a garden knows that the balance of the soil is important for plant growth and health.

This is why it is better to scatter ashes instead of dropping a pile of remains in one spot. People who plan to bury all of the ashes in one place may want to use extra care if they plan to keep a garden or grow a tree there.

How Long Do Biodegradable Urns Last?

The biodegradability of an item depends on its environment. As such, the time it takes to break down will vary. 

For example, a natural salt biodegradable urn could last for decades on land. When placed in water, it dissolves in a few hours. Urns made of paper might survive in good condition for months in a home, but break down as soon as they become wet. An urn that is meant for scattering might remain in beautiful form for years on the mantle, months when buried underground, or minutes in water.

Are Ashes Toxic?

No, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings concerning the nature of cremation and what happens afterward. Unfortunately, people sometimes buy into the idea that cremation is an unnatural process and conclude that the results are unsafe for the environment.

non toxic This is untrue. Ashes are made almost entirely out of tri-calcium phosphate, a natural mineral that makes up bones and teeth. Scattering these remains is no different than the remains of animals or birds that decay where they died.

There’s no need to worry about old-school dental fillings containing mercury or metal implants in the body becoming part of the cremated remains. A dental filling or crown made out of metal is filtered out before the ashes are delivered to the family. 

 

 

The more people understand the environment, the more complicated the discussion gets. Biodegradable urns can be a wonderful option for families seeking a greener way to say their last goodbyes. Understanding how biodegradability works (and how ashes play into it) helps people determine whether these urns will work for their needs.

Feel free to call us, if you have anymore questions about biodegradable urns.
 

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