With the environment in the forefront of everyone’s mind these days, choosing a green funeral is becoming a popular choice. With so many options out there, what type of casket to use is a big question?
Yes, there are biodegradable caskets. Biodegradable caskets come in sustainable materials such as cardboard, pine, wicker, and wool. They do not use any type of metal and the handles are usually an eco-friendly unbleached rope. Biodegradable caskets are easy to find and essential to a green funeral.
Most people in the world are trying to live more sustainable lives. Though green funerals are nothing new, with all the new and improved ways to have one, it can be a bit confusing with all the choices and terms.
After reading this article, you will be more prepared to choose what is best for you or your loved ones.
What are biodegradable caskets?
Green caskets are meant to be easily biodegradable and don’t put any chemicals or foreign substances into the earth as it decomposes and constructed in an eco-friendly way.
This is in comparison to most commercially produced caskets that have chemical treatments, metal parts that cannot be broken down and get into the soil. They are also manufactured and transported causing a significant carbon footprint.
What are the types of biodegradable containers?
- Burial Shroud- A burial shroud is a piece of fabric you wrap around the body. It is very simple, they are designed for the body to be placed inside them. They are usually custom-made in the shape of a rectangle to fold around the body. They have straps that tie and keep the body in place after it is wrapped. They can be made out of anything an can be customized to be made of something that the person cherished such as clothes or a blanket.
- Cardboard Coffin-Besides a burial shroud, it is the other most common type of container. The nice thing about them is that you can personalize them. They can be painted or even drawn on. This gives people the opportunity to recall memories and help with grieving which is very important, especially for children that may not fully understand what is happening.
- Woven Fibers- You create these by weaving different materials together such as hemp, rattan, bamboo, willow, seagrass, banana leaf, and rattan. They are very sturdy and can come in all sorts of different shapes, colors, and sizes.
- Wooden Casket– Whether you purchase or make on a wood casket, it is close to the traditional burial as it gets. These can be made from any material, but usually, pine is chosen for its availability and sturdiness. If you have the option try to get a local tree so it doesn’t have to be shipped from afar.
- Mushroom Suit– This suit is exactly what it sounds like. It has spores that are supposedly built into the suit to speed up the decomposition of a body. The jury is still out whether it does this or not, as the earth already does a good job of this on its own and doesn’t need too much help.
What is a green burial?
The main idea of a green burial (also known as a natural burial) is to make as little impact on the environment as possible.
A green burial is meant to be simple and environmentally sustainable. The body is not cremated or embalmed with toxic chemicals. The body is either put directly into the ground or in a biodegradable coffin/ shroud. There is no sealed vault or any material that cannot be broken down naturally.
A gravestone or marker is not placed on top of the grave either. The gravesite is to become as it was before, and look natural. Some people may even plant native flora around as a marker. The goal is for the decomposition of the body to happen naturally and for the area to return to as it was. To aid in decomposition the bodies are also often buried at a depth of just three feet.
For more information about planning a gree funeral, check out my full article on that topic here
What is the difference between a traditional burial and a green burial?
In general, a traditional funeral involves having a body that is embalmed using a formaldehyde-based substance to “preserve” the body. It also will have a coffin that is made of finished wood and/or some type of metal.
It will also include a vault where the casket is sealed inside the concrete. Next is the land that is used where the body is placed. Lastly, is the headstone which is put on top of the grave, usually made from granite or marble. The property is then maintained and taken care of year-round.
While these steps are normal for a traditional burial, the ecological impact of these is quite large and very bad for the environment.
In comparison to green burial, you would not use any embalming fluid and if you did, it would be eco-friendly. The main way they would do it is to keep the body on ice or in refrigeration.
The body would be in a non-finished coffin or covered with a shroud and no metals would be on the casket. No concrete is used, so the body can decompose and it is not preserved. There is no marker put on top unless it is a native plant or tree, so the land can return to how it was before the actual burial.
There are no chemical fertilizers or pesticides used that cemeteries use for the upkeep of the property. Also, there is no cutting or maintaining of the land that the body is placed with equipment, which requires the use of non-renewable fossil fuels.
Picking a Shade of Green
While the above description is a version of a green burial, there is no strict definition of what a green burial should be exactly. It is up to you to choose the “shade” of green that you want the funeral to be. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration with a green funeral that could affect its “shade”. Some things to think about before you start are:
What are the funds you have available?; Is there a funeral home service that does green funerals? Is it local? What are the local rules and regulations? Do I use no embalming or embalming with formaldehyde-free products?
Will the body be placed directly into the ground or will I have a container/shroud? What will the container/shroud be made of? Will you serve organic/vegan food? Will the food/flowers be locally-grown? Are the guests going to the funeral guest carpooling?
This list is not inclusive, but it should give you a good idea of how to think about a green funeral and that it is not just the casket you have to take into consideration.
Think of a green burial as a spectrum and there is no right or wrong way to do. It ultimately up to you and what you would like to do to minimize your carbon footprint. By just thinking about these things and making a few little changes it can go a long way to help out the environment. You are being proactive and no one is perfect.
Isn’t cremation green?
Actually it is not and usually far from it. It has been thought of green and environmentally friendly for a long time. While it takes up less space and reduces land use, the actual process is the culprit. It takes a lot of energy to heat up and burn the body. These use a lot of nonrenewable fossil fuels. It also releases a lot of emissions that harm the atmosphere.
The scattering of the ashes also raises issues, as it is a toxic foreign substance going into a foreign place. You may even run into legal issues depending on which methods you use and where you are located.
There are green cremations where you bury the ashes in a biodegradable container but cremation goes against the idea of natural decomposition of the body. It prevents the body from aiding the local ecosystem.
Why have a green burial?
Just because they are becoming more popular doesn’t mean that they are a recent innovation, green burials are nothing new.
Besides the headstone, most burials over the centuries would have been considered a “shade” of green. Some religions such as Judaism and Islam have always and still do these types of burials today. The uptick in green burials is for a number of reasons:
It can be simple- For many a burial is a way to show everyone who you were, to make one last impression and speak to what type of person you were. While some will have very lavish and expensive burial, others may want a green one. One that is simple unpretentious showing that you really care about the people left behind and the environment.
The cost is low- An average funeral costs around $8,000, that is a lot of money, no matter how you look at it. You are able to cut back on a lot of funeral expenses if you opt for eco-friendly choices.
A green burial is about $2,500 including a burial plot, fees, and a shroud/environmentally friendly casket. Since green burials do not require embalming, fancy caskets, site maintenance, etc. it can be very cost-effective.
This is not to say that it can’t become expensive if you choose certain amenities or places to donate to. Though a natural funeral is cheaper than traditional ones, cremation is still usually the cheapest option. This is unless you go with the simplest and most basic green funeral, then it is comparable.
There are a lot of DIY options with a natural funeral as well that can lower the coast even more.
You are saving natural resources-. Each year in the US, cemeteries bury millions of board feet of hardwood, and tens of thousands of tons of steel in caskets, and millions of tons of concrete in vaults.
The number of natural resources used is staggering in its own right, but the cost of getting them is also labor and time-intensive. The wood and stone used for funerals are usually not local or native and have to be transported for long distances.
With funeral businesses migrating to the internet people have more options and are taking advantage of them. With a natural burial, very few resources are used. In fact, you can make the coffin out of reclaimed wood if you choose to. Also, planting a tree as the grave markers would be making the world a better place and adding instead of taking away.
Eliminate toxic chemicals- Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde which is a respiratory irritant and a known carcinogen.
It is not only bad for the environment, but for the people who make and handle it. The funeral home workers who are exposed to it daily have a higher possible risk of cancer (source).
Green burial prohibits conventional embalming, but some places still embalm, they just use a formaldehyde-free alternative. It is most likely essential oils and will not harm the health of the embalmer or the environment. To find which ones are suitable it is best to ask the funeral home or check with the Green Burial Councils website.
The other toxic chemicals that can get into the earth are from the casket itself. When purchasing a casket you want to look for one that is fair trade-certified which means that the people making it are employed in a safe environment and receive a suitable wage.
These green caskets will not have chemical-based paints or finishes on them. This way, no toxins will be released during the production and while it is in the ground.
Restore and protect nature– Not only can you protect nature by doing a green burial you can also help to restore it.
Many people love nature lead them to a green burial. They want to be laid to rest in an area that they loved. Depending on the site you choose for your burial, the burial site could be landscaped and populated by native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.
This site could offer food to local flora and fauna. You may choose to be buried on a private plot of land (see my article on the laws behind this) or at a conservation-intensive green cemetery. There are many green cemeteries out there that focus on conservation and the restoration of the land. Conservation funerals are even a type of green funeral that goes even further than a normal green burial.
Spiritual- For some religions, a green burial is part of tradition and culture. For others that are more spiritual and not religious a green burial offers you a traditional way of being buried.
Natural burials can be looked at as a way to return to how people were buried before the commercialization of funerals recently. You could want to be near your loved ones on your own property for this very reason. Most states allow burial on private property, you just have to check local laws to see whether it allowed.
What exactly is a green cemetery and where can I find one?
A green cemetery is a burial site that does not allow the use of things such as vaults, non-biodegradable caskets and/or embalming fluids that are not certified as non-harmful. It doesn’t use herbicides, pesticides or even an irrigation system for the upkeep of the cemetery.
Any substance that is used at a green cemetery must go toward the replenishing and revival of the earth.
All cemeteries do not have the same set of standards, nor is there a law for them to do so. It is up to the cemetery to make and enforce them. There is a certifying body in the US that has stepped up to fill that void.
The ones that are certified by the Green Burial Council are not necessarily held to higher standards, but you know what the basic requirements are. Though generally if a cemetery is going through the process to be certified, it will have a very high standard of care for the environment.
There are over 340 green-certified cemeteries in the US alone and even more not certified. With many more on the list to become certified.
You can go to greenburialcouncil.org for a locator of a cemetery that is in your area and for more ideas on green burials. The Green Burial Council has lists of certified providers. These providers list their green burial offerings and are also rated on their compliance with other optional criteria. You can also find a PDF list of green cemeteries here.
What if there are no green cemeteries around?
It is ok, you have other options. There are some cemeteries in the U.S. that accommodate both types of burials traditional and green.
The issue usually arises with the personal beliefs of the person who may not want to contribute to this type of cemetery. But sometimes, there are limited options and this could be the best choice to keep your ecological footprint to a minimum.
A cemetery that is not certified green but does green funerals, tries to incorporate green elements that would not be used normally not be used.
As green burial increases in popularity, more funeral providers are willing to offer them, but since it is new they may not be the most knowledgeable on them.
The Federal Trade Commission is the governing body that regulates most of the funeral industry standards. The FTC has not yet developed any guidelines or standards for green burials at funeral homes and cemeteries but are working on them and should be rolled out in the near future.
Why don’t all cemeteries offer green burials?
Burial and cremation are the most common ways to have a funeral and the traditions are hard to change. Most people don’t think about death and have not even planned for it, so when it happens they go with the easiest and most well know way.
With education, this hopefully will change. Also, funeral homes are equally very traditional and very resistant to change. Though it may be good for the environment it means that they will make less money as it is a cheaper option.
In fact, you can always get a better deal if you know what to ask, please read my article about key questions you should be asking any funeral home you work with.
Some things that are brought up are how the deceased may not look good without the use of embalming or if you don’t have a headstone how will you remember your loved one.
They can also make rules for the cemetery that are not required by federal or state law, like the use of outer burial containers or vaults. Both of these things are not necessary or green. This is not to say all funeral directors are like this but it happens from time to time.
What is the actual cost of a green burial?
Prices vary widely depending on where you live and your access to a green burial site and what type you want to have.
Burial plots in a green cemetery tend to be larger than those in a conventional cemetery, so they may cost more. The cost for a gravesite and a single body is around $2,500. This is still high even though it is much more simple and less of a process is involved.
The reasons behind the high cost could be down to a few things depending on the cemetery. The plot tends to be bigger, so more land is used. Secondly, green cemeteries tend to donate money to eco-organizations that help and care for the environment.
Lastly, they can. A lot of times you do not have a lot of other options so the market can dictate the price. With more places opening and haveing green funerals the cost should come down in the future.
To determine a fair price, compare the funeral homes around and see if doing some of it yourself could be cheaper, it probably will be.
What can I do on my own (DIY)?
You can save a considerable amount of money and even make the funeral more green by doing somethings yourself.
By making and providing your own casket, as opposed to purchasing a biodegradable casket will be the biggest saving of up to thousands of dollars. Check out my articles on tips for making your own DIY casket and why you should do it.
By law, the funeral home is required to accept any appropriate container you provide, and they also can’t charge you extra for this.
If you don’t want a casket, a shroud is a great idea. You can make it more memorable by using a favorite blanket or quilt to wrap your loved one in. By having the burial on your land or that of a relative would be the other big cost saver. While this is not possible for everyone it is something to think about.
The biggest way is to plan ahead, it is not the easiest topic to plan for but should be done by all. When it finally happens people are grieving and tend to just want the easiest path and for the funeral to be over.
So you may be more susceptible to marketing that appeals to your conscience. So you want to be careful where you choose. By choosing a natural burial it gives you the freedom to turn down unnecessary services that will not only be costly to you but also to the environment.
Are eternal reefs eco-friendly?
It is a fact that the coral reef is dying at an alarming rate around the world. While making yourself into one after your death will help out the seas and the fish it isn’t exactly that green.
Since you are being cremated first, it defeats some of the purposes of a green funeral. This is not to say that it isn’t great to support marine life and nourish the corals, but simply just putting in the structures and having a separate green burial would be a better way to do it.
What is a conservation burial?
For even more ecological benefits, these burials go even further by following the same ideas as above but putting the excess money to use.
Since people are saving so much money on the funeral, they are taking the money that would have otherwise been spent on the burial and spending it on the purchase, protection, restoration, and management of land for conservation.
What if the body is in bad condition?
If the body is has been in a severe accident or is a bad condition many families hire funeral directors for body preparation. They should be able to repair and make the body suitable for viewing. The key to a natural burial is to have the burial as fast as possible after the death to avoid the decay.
Therefore, you may have to compromise on the wishes of a loved-one if the circumstances mean that a speedy burial cannot be arranged and some materials are required to tend to the deceased with full dignity.
Will wild animals dig up the deceased?
No, they will not. The average depth of a natural burial is around 3.5 feet under the ground with a 20-inch smell barrier. Animals are much more interested in prey that are above the ground.
This is, as I’ve mentioned, a practice that has gone on for centuries and the issue has been addressed already.
How long does it take for a body to completely decompose?
There are many factors to take into consideration; soil type, oxygen availability, and moisture present. On average six weeks to lose the soft tissue, and up to two years for complete decomposition. In extreme and wet conditions bones could take up to twenty years or more.
Head over to Titancaskets.com to discover some very reasonably priced caskets, as well as environmentally friendly designs from as little as $699.