As the old saying goes, the only things guaranteed in life are death and taxes. Burial rites have become increasingly involved over time, particularly for those who can afford it--as the Great Pyramids testify. Today, in the United States, a US$25-billion death-care industry oversees 1.8 million burials a year, with the average funeral costing about $6,000. As millions of baby boomers are expected to die by 2040, the market will only expand.


Funerary options vary widely around the world, depending on culture and lifestyle. In Bombay, India, the Parsi community follows a centuries-old tradition of using vultures to dispose of the dead. U.S. residents can buy specialty urns bearing the insignia of the deceased's favorite sports team. And one enterprising company, LifeGem, will create a certified, high-quality diamond from the carbon of your loved one.


Closing the Loop

Residents of several U.S. cities have successfully fought plans to build new crematoriums, and critics have called for stricter emissions controls on them. Other proposals for reducing emissions include removing mercury fillings from corpses before cremation and using liquid nitrogen to reduce bodies to dust. Adelaide's Centennial Park cemetery plants trees to offset the site's emissions, and Koekisha, a major funeral home operator in Osaka, Japan, uses dry ice and a cold insulator to reduce carbon emissions from bodies.

Eco-frienly burials, popular in the United Kingdom for years, are catching on elsewere. Low-impact offering include naturalfiber shrouds, fair-trade bamboo caskets lined with unbleached cotton, and the $5,000 Ecopod, a biodegradable coffin made from recyled newspaper. In Japan, options include vegetable protein runs and capsules made from tea leaves.


Death is also becoming a vehicle for conservation. The UK is home to some 180 natural or woodland cemeteries, accounting for more than 10 percent of...

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