On July 20, families in Tianjin, China, participated in the nation’s largest green burial ceremony. The ashes of 250 people were placed into biodegradable urns made of sand and clay and buried at Yong’an Cemetery. At a separate ceremony on the same day, 30 other families held “water burials” and placed the urns in a nearby pond.
With land increasingly lost to urban development, desertification and soil erosion, the people of China are struggling to save as much farmable land as they can. As a result, burial costs have skyrocketed for families of the 10 million people who die each year in a country that already holds one-fifth of the world’s population. Some cemeteries have even started leasing plots to families.
Green burials are becoming more and more popular, as they are environmentally friendly and take up less space. They are also cheaper than more customary funerals with lavish memorial services and decorated urns and headstones. Shengtai, a manufacturer of these biodegradable urns, has sold more than 10,000 since it started in 2007, and sales are only going up. Local governments in China have been promoting green burials as an alternative to the traditional funeral rites, and Yong’an Cemetery offers free urns and burial ceremonies every month as a way to promote the environmentally safer method. Families can also give gravesite decorations to the deceased through an “online mourning” website.