The current population of the Earth is about 7.4 billion. We'll hit 9 billion by 2040. The current annual death rate is estimated at nearly 12 million.That's a lot of remains to deal with. Alternatives to embalming and encasing the dead in expensive coffins, filling up bucolic spaces will need to be found.
Due to many social and economic changes the most common alternative to the traditional burial system has become cremation, now approaching 50% of burials vs "traditional" practices. Cremation is cheaper, space saving and generally better for the environment. Recent advances have made modern crematoria retorts more energy efficient reducing the ecological impact. Still, natural gas is consumed and some small amounts of toxic chemicals are released in the process. And then, of course, you must determine what to do with the cremains. Scattering them, encasing them in jewelry, incorporating them into paints used for artwork, and burial at sea as part of an eternal reef (http://eternalreefs.com) are just a few of the ways cremains are being handled.
Green burial wherein the body is wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or coffin and allowed to decompose naturally in a grave is another alternative. But locations for green burials are often in short supply.
Recently, some imaginative processes for dealing with the dead have been making the news. Some of these ideas offer the potential of generating a positive result from death rather than simply reducing the negative impact.
An Italian company called Capsula Mundi envisions placing remains in a biodegradable pod which is then buried with a tree sapling rooted in it. The burial place then becomes a living monument. The vision is of cemeteries as forests.
Promession is a 5 step process that reduces the body to biodegradable grains.The process was developed in Sweden and involves freeze drying the body, shattering the frozen corpse into pieces, removing the water and toxic metals. The buried granules are naturally converted to compost within weeks.
A company called Coeio is developing the Infinity Burial concept: Place the corpse in a suit that is treated with special fungi that will decompose and filter out all the toxins creating a clean compost.
Each of these new ideas and others are still being developed and are not yet generally available. But technology is not always the barrier. They face legal and social hurdles and often resistance from the entrenched funeral industrial complex. But just as cremation has found its way into our culture, surely more imaginative ways to handle our dead will become part of life.