The world is running out of burial space

Apr 13, 2015

By John McManus

There is a looming problem in many parts of the world over what to do with dead bodies, as pressure on burial space intensifies.

The industrial revolution, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, saw a mass migration from small villages and towns to cities.

Previously, most people had lived in rural locations and would be buried in the local church’s graveyard.

But with a growing urban population, the authorities in Victorian Britain built large cemeteries, often on the outskirts of cities.

Those cemeteries are now largely full.

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12 comments on “The world is running out of burial space

  • I have been baffled the way Americans are more careful with the dead than the living. They will risk living people to recover corpses. They pretend corpses are alive , creating great pillowy creations for them to “rest” on. They use chemicals and barriers to delay decomposition — to what end?

    Reasonable ways of burial include:

    burying in the garden under a tree. You recycle for others to eat. Just use a cardboard box.
    freezing in liquid nitrogen, then shattering. Then burying.
    cremation (wastes a lot of fuel)
    Buddhist style – eaten by vultures.

    Unreasonable ways:

    embalming the corpse with chemicals that contaminate the soil.
    sacrificing a $5000 piece of cabinetry (They should be recycled. Oddly recycling is considered criminal).
    hold a plot “in perpetuity”. Perpetuity should be defined as until visitors stop coming for ten years.

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  • Vertical post hole chuck me in a cloth bag down the hole fill in with dirt and plant a tree on top. Least I can do it to let my decomposing body help feed some plants and animals. Hell turn me into blood and bone for all I care sell me as fertiliser. You could print peoples faces on the bags so whoever picks up the bag can see who is fertilising their tomatoes. It would certainly be smellier than scattering ashes but for me a far nicer thought to think my nutrients might help feed someone than burning up even more energy turning me into ash.

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  • 7
    old-toy-boy says:

    Cat food !

    I like cats, I don’t have a problem with this, neither does the neighbour’s cat, and I don’t why it should be anyone else’s business.

    (The picture is of the neighbour’s cat eyeing a bird on the other side of the window.)

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  • 8
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Buddhist style – eaten by vultures.

    I think I first saw this in the movie Kundun a long time ago. At first I found this tradition a bit macabre but I thought about it and I came to the conclusion that it is indeed the best way. It wastes no energy or resources, it occupies no real estate and it produces no pollution or greenhouse gases (apart from a few vulture farts) so it’s perfectly ecological.

    Sadly, there is a big cultural barrier to overcome to make westerners accept this method of burial and there are logistical problems as well, one of which is the abscence of vultures in some colder climes. But it would definitely solve a lot of problems in the long run.

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  • NearlyNakedApe
    Apr 15, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Sadly, there is a big cultural barrier to overcome to make westerners accept this method of burial

    Indeed so! Some in the USA seem fixated on dead bodies!

    The remains of nearly 400 US servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor are to be exhumed so they may be identified and given individual burials, the US says.

    Only the remains of 35 of the 429 sailors and Marines killed aboard the USS Oklahoma have been identified so far.

    The rest of the remains – retrieved during salvage operations from 1942 to 1944 – have been buried in caskets, marked as “unknown”, at a national cemetery in Hawaii.

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  • 10
    Brandon says:

    An idea I had a long time ago, it would be to have a small (capsule or pod that is resistant to the environment) and store items that person liked in it (just a few small things like a record, mixtape, movie, poem, some quotes, pictures, etc..) You bury these very close together and it could have a database in it that would have a message pre-written by the deceased, along with that, would show those same things that meant a lot to them. You could bury generations of people (same families or good friends) together and in a few hundred years, it would be a very interesting and space efficient way to bury them. My great great great great grandchildren could look and see the music I loved, pictures of my relatives and information to look them up, etc..

    People actual bodies should be donated to science.

    What do you guys thinks?

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  • 11
    Ted Foureagles says:

    The disposition of my corpse is the charter of those who survive me, but from my living perspective there are some things I’d prefer over others. I wouldn’t want my body to be a bag of toxic chemicals in some vain attempt at preservation, but if there’s a good reason for it, like preservation for medical research, then that’s OK. I’d rather they not make a traditional grave. I’ve been a house builder and as such have already used up a fair bit of the landscape. Cremation seems a waste of biomass and gas, not to mention unseemly pollution.

    What I’d prefer would be to be hauled out into the woods and left, at least giving the planet back a meal. Being “resurrected” as a coyote or some beetles or some grass is not just romantic, but responsible recycling. I have a dear friend way up in Colorado who promised that he would perform this illegal act for me, and I don’t at all doubt that he would.

    But probably the most responsible thing would be to donate my body to medical science. I’m already registered as an organ donor, but it’s hard to see how any of my working bits would be of a quality that could help anyone still alive. However, my carcass might be of use in research, or at least as a cautionary lesson.

    As an aside, when my grandmother died in 2003 she was denied burial in the cemetery of her church, where she was baptized in 1899, because she’d borne my father out of wedlock.


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  • Ted Foureagles
    Apr 15, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    As an aside, when my grandmother died in 2003 she was denied burial in the cemetery of her church, where she was baptized in 1899, because she’d borne my father out of wedlock.

    Ah well! A serious issue there!
    That threatens the church’s claimed monopoly on controlling sex and marriage.

    They can’t have things like consideration for human feelings, getting in the way of things like that at a time mourning!

    How many of her loving faith-head congregation intervened on her behalf, or out of consideration for her family, I wonder? (In round figures)

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