Cemeteries & Crematoria
The UK Cremation Industry Emissions
Amid the ongoing fears of a pandemic, the bereavement industry is likely to come under pressure so how much do we really know about the environmental and health impacts arising from the cremation industry?
In the UK 79% of people are now cremated, which is around 470,000 people each year spread across the UK’s 300 crematoriums (Pharos Statistic Issue 2019). Out of these 300 crematoriums, there are approximately 606 cremator machines; 99% of which are gas powered.For every gas cremation, approximately 245 kg of carbon is released into the atmosphere which, when added together, is around 115,150 tonnes of carbon released each year; solely from cremation in the UK.
The CDS Group carried out a study looking solely at Greater London’s crematorium emissions. This revealed that, combined, these crematoria released around 9000 tonnes of carbon and 18,000 kilograms of NOx emissions. To put that into perspective, to offset the carbon emissions of Greater London crematoria, around 134,000 acres of new tree seedlings would need to be planted (EPA.GOV Carbon Calculator 2020). Emissions of this scale are not only a danger to our environment but the NOx emissions are also a potential danger to public health - particularly to young children.
Newsquest Data Investigations carried out a survey on UK crematoria asking whether a mercury abatement system was installed. Out of the 158 responders, 18% do not have the equipment. Exposure to the mercury pollution is linked to damage to the brain, nervous system and fertility. Statutory Guidance for Crematoria states that “Fitting mercury arrestment by end of 2012 is required such that at least 50% of UK cremations are carried out in plants fitted with abatement”. It appears to be the time that guidance for crematoria becomes more stringent and monitoring of emissions from crematoria more rigorous if we are to enforce the current guidelines and improve emissions in the future. Ideally this monitoring should be carried out by an independent body rather than the operator to ensure no conflict of interest.
In Europe, manufacturers have decided to make a stance and reduce emissions voluntarily. Electric cremators are being manufactured in Holland and Germany and have been installed across Europe. The electric cremators are designed to be highly efficient, reaching a temperature and remaining at that temperature which then minimises energy consumption. Huntingdon Town Council has opted to install two electric cremators into their brand new facility which is due to be open this year; with several other Local Authorities following suit in the next one to two years. The electric cremators in this facility will run on a green energy tariff, releasing around 90% less carbon than a conventional gas cremator with only carbon from the combustion of the body and the coffin entering the local environment.
It is hoped that the leading manufacturers of UK cremators will follow suit; much like manufacturers of domestic gas heating boilers are being required to do by 2025 (Phil Hammond – Budget Statement 2019). Cremators have an operational lifespan of 15-20 years but waiting until then in the hope that a switch to hydrogen becomes viable is simply avoiding the issue when viable alternatives to gas exist now. Though NOx can be reduced in gas cremators by using Selective Catalytic Reduction (known in the industry as DeNOx), there is no current technology available to reduce CO2 emissions from gas cremators. Electric cremators release an estimated half the NOx emissions of a gas cremator and also have the capacity to utilise Selective Catalytic Reduction. All electric cremators are fitted with abatement systems to remove mercury and other contaminants. Electric cremators are more efficient, cheaper to run in the long term and lower maintenance.
Offsetting, filtering out emissions or paying into burden schemes is not the answer. The industry should take immediate steps to switch from gas cremation and to electric cremation which is currently the greenest technology available if we are to make our own contribution to mitigating climate change as an industry.
EPA.GOV Carbon Calculator 2020
Phillip Hammond 2019