As municipalities ponder how they can stretch tight budgets as well as do their part to address growing concern over climate change risks, one English town's council has come up with a creative, perhaps peculiar, solution.
Redditch is about a 2 hour drive northwest of London. At one time, the borough of 80,000 people was the 19th century global center for the fishing tackle and needle industries. By the 1960s Redditch became a model of urban planning. Now like many cities around the world, the town's leaders face fiscal challenges, and has suggested what some may think is a macabre way to heat a swimming pool. If implemented, the plan could save the town upfront costs of almost US$100,000 (£61,000).
The Redditch Council wants to warm its Abbey Stadium Sports Centre, including its swimming pool, with renewable energy from its neighboring crematorium. By the transfer of heat from the crematorium's incinerators to a system that would warm the sports and leisure facility, the town estimates that it could not only conserve energy, but save about UK£14,000 (about US$23,000). The cost would be about £39,000, so we are talking about a quick return on investment. A conventional heating system, meanwhile, would set Redditch back over £100,000 (US$160,000).
Details of the plan have not been released, nor is it clear whether the heating pipes would be six feet under the Abbey Stadium sports center. Judging by the facility's Facebook page, chances are that the new heating scheme would not affect its operations: children's gymnastics, boxfit classes, and advanced swimming lessons would continue as planned. Nevertheless, the suggestion, about which the council will hold briefings next week with the public, religious groups, and funeral directors, is a serious topic among the town's leadership.
At first this latest energy saving solution across as macabre or creepy, but do not count on the town to bury this plan. The council's leader, Carole Gandy, defended the plan, stating that she would rather use the energy than just have it escape out of the chimney and heat the sky (or heaven). But one local funeral director, whose business is several miles down the road, was dubious:
"I don't know how comfortable people would feel about the swimming pool being heated due to the death of a loved one, I think it's a bit strange and eerie."
Quick research indicates that the crematorium (and the sports center) is city-owned, so no private business would directly profit, and therefore the community avoids any chance of falling subject to suspicious cross-marketing or promotional schemes.
Here's our question: Would townsfolk continue to patronize the sporting facility knowing that the swimming pool and aerobics rooms were heated in part by the town's deceased? After all, it is only heat–no ashes would come in contact with the living. And whatever your religion may be, the fact is that our physical beings eventually return to earth . . . and meanwhile, the air you are breathing could have traces of well, you get the picture.
At a time when some forms of energy that purport to be "renewable" and "green" but are hardly neither, Redditch could make the point that this form of energy is certainly renewable, unless locals stop dying.
As one CNET writer notes, it is an alternative way to give back to the community. Mind you, this is not the first time the Redditch crematorium got burned with negative publicity: last fall it ran a pilot scheme at which bodies were stockpiled before cremation in a step towards cost savings and energy efficiency.
If this affects your opinion on burial vs. cremation, we welcome your comments