Greener Pet Burial: Why Not?

Dear EarthTalk: My vet tells me my 18-year-old cat is nearing the end of her life and I’m wondering what my options are for a green-friendly burial?

—Sandy Monroe, New York, NY

Some 94 million cats and 89 million dogs living with us as our pets in the United States. Given that these animals become part of our families, it’s hard to let them go when their time comes. And beyond that, it’s hard to know what to do with their remains.

More than two-thirds of us leave our pet’s remains at the vet’s office, which usually ends in communal cremation. But the process of cremation leads to the release of vaporized mercury, dioxins and furans—noxious air pollutants that spread for miles around—not to mention greenhouse gases.

pet burial
Green-minded pet owners might consider choosing aquamation instead of cremation when it comes time to deal with a deceased pet’s remains. Credit: Marco Biedermann, FlickrCC

One eco-friendly alternative to cremation is aquamation (otherwise known as alkaline hydrolysis) which entails accelerating the decomposition process by applying a combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity.

“At the end of the process, the body has been returned to its natural form in water,” reports Colorado-based Guardian Pet Aquamation. “Similar to cremation, the only solid remains are the mineral ash of the bones.” The end result is a sterile, EPA-neutral liquid solution of amino acids, peptides, and sugars that can be released onto the earth guilt-free.

Many of us just bury our deceased pets in our backyards, which is a perfectly good way to go if staying true to your environmental ideals is a factor, given that the body can decompose naturally over time in the soil and at least in theory contribute to soil health and plant growth. You can help move the process along by burying your pet in one of The Forever Spot’s shrouds or beds which contain a “bio-mix” of mushrooms and other microorganisms that aid in decomposition, neutralize toxins and transfer nutrients to plant life. They come in a range of sizes accommodating anything from a small hamster to a large dog.

If you don’t have a backyard that works, maybe an eco-friendly pet cemetery—where pets are interred in biodegradable caskets or shrouds and landscaping is done without synthetic chemicals—is a good option. The non-profit Green Pet-Burial Society lists several around the U.S. on its website, including Deceased Pet Care in Atlanta, Georgia; Ridgeview Memorial Gardens in Grandville, Michigan; Angel’s Rest in Kanab, Utah; La Puerta Natural Burial Pet Cemetery in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Carolina Memorial Sanctuary in Mills River, NC; and Greenhaven Preserve in Eastover, SC. Many of these facilities are starting to offer aquamation as an alternative to cremation as well. Yet another option would be finding an eco-friendly human cemetery that allows pet remains to be buried in family plots.

Meanwhile, if you dream of releasing your pet’s remains into a grand natural setting that you can go visit and commune with nature, Better Place Forests lets families spread human and pet remains under a reserved memorial tree in a 20-acre Redwood forest along California’s stunning Mendocino Coast.