The term Green Burial is something that we are hearing more and more these days. With people being more conscious about the environment and how they spend their hard-earned money, a green burial might be the right option for you.
A green burial is considered a natural way that is sustainable for the environment. It does not use chemicals or products that would harm the environment in any way. You are trying to leave the smallest impact possible. The main idea is to leave zero to minimal trace on the environment as you can.
This is a great option for those that are worried about our impact on the environment. There are are a lot of different ways to go about getting it done, and numerous things that should be taken into consideration.
Are all Green Burials the Same?
The short answer is no, they are not all the same. The main idea of a green burial is to make the least amount of impact on the environment as possible. So, depending on your fiscal situation and/or your location this could mean different things. You have to do what is right for you and that is not the same for everyone.
The main tenets of a green burial are that the body is not cremated or prepared with harsh chemicals. The body is placed into the ground as is or in a biodegradable container such as a cardboard box or shroud.
A shroud is just a piece of cloth or other material that is used to cover up the body. You want the body to completely decompose and be absorbed back into the Earth. You can make a choice at every step to limit the waste produced and, reduce the carbon footprint.
You may read different terms such as green, natural and earth-friendly burial. There is no difference, and these terms are interchangeable.
Reasons for a Green Burial
Knowing why you want a green burial can help guide you in your decision making. There are different levels or “natural or green”, and which one is up to you.
In general, an earth-friendly burial gives numerous benefits to the local community. It can enhance an area and improve the local flora and fauna by bringing more life through the nutrients put back into the soil by the body.
Some of the main reasons for a green burial are cost, environmental impact, carbon footprint, and legacy.
Cost- It is usually cheaper to have a green burial. With these types of burials, you are not consuming a lot of products and or services. During a regular funeral, you need a lot of things; caskets, embalming fluids, clothes, urn, flowers, etc.. The whole funeral process usually costs around $7,500 depending on what services you have, and even more when you opt for higher-end products.
In a green funeral, there are no chemicals and expensive coffins. The coffin could still be bought but for a lower price as the material is not for show. The family could even make a coffin or supply a shroud of their own. This could bring costs down even further. It is also more special that the family is involved more as opposed to a funeral director or undertaker. With a green funeral, the costs can range greatly as you have a lot of different ways to do it. Around $2,000 including the plot and services is an average.
If you are interested in finding out more about the growing trend of DIY coffins, then please read my full article on this topic here.
Environmental Impact– With a natural burial, we are using fewer resources. Just imagine how many forests and trees that need to be cut down to make all of the coffins for funerals!
You are also not putting hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde back into the environment. If these leak into the soil it can be detrimental to the local environment. Also, not to mention exposing the funeral directors and creators to them, when inhaled they can cause respiratory issues.
In choosing a green cemetery or wild area where one is laid to rest can help the environment grow back. The burial sites could be restorative as it offers food and nutrients, which can help the local wildlife to flourish. Little things like the planting of native flowers as opposed to buying ones that will die is a change that could really help out the area. You are not only taking care of the Earth now but for the future.
Carbon Footprint– Something that is overlooked is the carbon footprint we use for such activities as a funeral. The transportation costs alone are quite harmful to the environment.
The trees are cut using machines and then usually transported from afar where they reach a location to make into a coffin then again then transported to the funeral home. For the mining of stone for headstones, is even more labor and CO2. The mining equipment used in the process and refining consumes a lot of gas and oil. The stones are also heavier to transport.
Even with cremation, you are using a lot of fuel and then releasing that smoke into the air. There are debates around whether cremation is a green funeral. The fewer things that have to be transported/done, the lower the CO2 output. Since a natural burial doesn’t use a lot of natural resources and puts little to no pollutants into the environment you are really cutting down on your footprint.
Legacy- How you are remembered or not is something people think about often. A green burial tends to be very simple and unpretentious. You are trying to convey a message to your loved ones on who you were and your ideals.
Some people are buried in green cemeteries where you may have a plot where a tree or some sort of tree is planted that you can be remembered by. Others may not want that and are buried in a conservation area. These areas are where there are others that have the same ideals as you. These lands are protected and you saving them for future generations to visit and be able to enjoy.
No matter what your reasons for doing it is, you are helping the environment and for most, there is enough solace in this action alone. You are leaving the world a little better than it was before and setting a positive example for others to think about.
Green Burials are Legal in the US
While it is legal on a federal level, you have local rules/regulations for dealing with human remains that you have to abide by. You would need to check your state or province to see. A funeral director can help you or you can go to (https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/) to learn more about laws and places to have green burials.
There is also the option to be buried on land that is privately owned. If this is something which fits your case, then please read my article on this topic, especially if you live in the USA.
Finding a green funeral home
Though it may be legal cemeteries and funeral homes and not really getting behind the idea of a natural burial. There are a few reasons for this, first off, funerals are big business. With people opting to do things themselves or forgo the coffin, these companies are losing business.
Another reason is that the funeral industry is steeped in traditions and as with a lot of older professions, they are not prone to change as quickly. While the idea of a green burial is an old idea it is a newer trend. The funeral home may not do them because no one or very few people ask for it. As more and more people request one, the places that can and do green funerals are increasing.
Some already do and offer green burials. One big issue that makes it harder for green funerals to be adopted by funerals homes is that the Federal Trade Commission (which is the governing body and regulates many parts of the funeral industry) hasn’t yet created defined rules and regulations. They have these for other types of funerals and burials but no set of standards for green ones. It is in the process of happening but could be sometime before they are made into law.
What types of caskets are there?
Eco-friendly is the opposite of lavish. You want to think simple and plain, these tend to be less costly and better for the environment. You can use plants and trees to make the casket. In the most customary sense, a green burial means a person is buried in a container that can decompose, along with their remains, and return to the earth’s soil.
Coffins can be made from any number of materials. Some common ones for green burials are cardboard, recycled paper, bamboo, banana leaves, willow branches, wicker, and local trees. These would not be made of metal or plastics. They would also not have any stains, varnishes or oils that could harm the environment.
You always want to use local products because if it has to be shipped it will use a lot of CO2 to get there. This goes for processing of the products as well, the less the better. More people are making these things for themselves and creating them at home, this gives a more sentimental touch. The other benefits are that since you are in charge of it, you can make sure it chemical and toxin-free.
A green burial is a way that you can get the whole family and/or community involvement. It can really be a group effort to help remember the person and to take ownership in caring for the environment. This could also really help in the personalization of different parts of the funeral and help the healing process. Some ways you can ‘Do It Yourself’are
- Bury them on a plot of land that is your own, or an area they loved. Make sure to check local and state laws. (see my article)
- On the coffin, you can draw or paint with non-toxic ink.
- Make a shroud from materials that were given to you or meant a lot to the deceased.
- Plant a tree or flowers as the grave marker to remember them by. Try to plant native plants to encourage local wildlife to interact.
- Making the coffin is also an option for a more ambitious person. (see my article) Remember it does not have to be perfect, what you are doing will be appreciated. (If you are using a cemetery, by law they are required to accept any “appropriate container” you provide, without charging any extra. So, check with the funeral home before you start. )
Do you have to embalm a body?
No, you do not. The funeral home may recommend it, but that is their job. When you embalm someone you are preserving the human for everyone to see at the funeral. The process uses harsh and deadly chemicals that stave off decomposition.
It is fully for cosmetic purposes and very bad for the environment and public health. If one wanted to preserve the body in a more natural way you could preserve the body is to use dry ice, a refrigeration unit, or a nontoxic embalming agent. While not everyone has these options they are things to think about.
Is Cremation a Green Burial?
For the most part no it is not green. But depending on your situation it could be less of an impact on the environment than other options.
As talked about before burning fossil fuels and CO2 produced is quite a lot from cremation as the furnace needs extreme high heat to fully turn the body into ash. When the ashes are taken out they are often put into copper, bronze, steel, etc. container.
Those containers took a lot of resources to create and transport. Some may want to scatter the ashes this has environmental implications as well. If the ashes end up in a freshwater source or land on plants that are sensitive to pollutants it could be detrimental for them.
While a green burial eliminates much of this waste it may not be accessible to all. You may have local laws that prevent one being buried in the area and a green cemetery could be so far away the cremation process would leave less of an impact. Think about what you will do with ashes afterward and try no to scatter them.
There are a lot of new and interesting ways to honor your loved one and the environment at the same time. There are companies out there that sell products to let you mix the ashes with soil to gro eco-friendly. (Let Your Love Grow) A way for one that was in love with the water, is to have them made into a reef. The remains are mixed into concrete and coral reefs and grow from them. ( Eternal Reefs)
Are Green Burials actually better for the environment?
Yes, they are better for the environment. As you read above, there are many different types and ways to do a green burial. Even if you are having a cremation and using an urn made from brass, that is a lot less of an environmental impact than having a traditional burial. You are also not putting those chemicals into the ground.
By not having been buried at all you are allowing space for nature to grow. A part of green burial where you could make the biggest impact is to have relatives and friends stay at home. This is very difficult and nor reasonable for some but travel is one of the biggest emitters of CO2, especially if they are flying to the funeral.
How much will a natural burial cost?
The prices for green funerals will range widely by area and the type of natural burial. The most expensive thing you will pay for usually is the plot of land. These are still businesses and a green cemetery plot may cost more than a normal one.
The cemeteries charge more for different reasons and they are usually associated with conservation and the environment. The prices are usually around $2,000, but you have to take into consideration you will be saving on almost all other aspects of the funeral process.
If you DIY yourself, create the casket/shroud and have your own plot of land to put the body it can be extremely cheap.
Are there any other options besides burial and cremation?
Yes, emulsification. It is the process of using chemicals to break down the body and turn it into liquid. It is only allowed in certain states currently.
How do I find the body if there is no gravestone?
In the past natural markers were used to know where one was buried. These can but used now, or you could plant something to mark the grave. The most common way now is GPS coordinates. With GPS you will no have any issues finding it.
How old are green burials?
They have been used since the beginning of time. Such religions as Islam and Judaism have always used them and still do today.
Why isn’t everyone doing a green burial?
While it is a growing movement, most people do no think about it and or haven’t heard about it. Funerals are an old tradition and things like this take time to change.