End of life planning may feel like an unsettling topic, but a clear course of action that aligns with your values can offer a deep sense of comfort. For this reason, green burials have become more popular in recent years. This natural burial method does away with many of society’s typical death traditions to offer a more eco-friendly solution. Many people like the idea of returning to the Earth, and green burial is a method for doing just that.
People who choose green burials are able to re-establish the natural cycles of life. However, there are many other reasons you or your loved one may consider this method. Not only does natural burial please eco-conscious individuals, but it is also a cheaper alternative to traditional methods. Let’s take a look at the specifics to discover why so many are opting for natural burial.
What is a green burial?
Natural burial is a term used to describe a range of Earth-friendly alternatives available for society’s traditional death care processes. The main characteristics of green burials include skipping the embalming chemicals, choosing burial containers that will decompose naturally, and avoiding any other materials that will disrupt the ecosystem.
Every process involved with funerals and burials can be customized to incorporate eco-friendly practices, including everything from a grave’s location to the methods used to preserve a body. There are more options than you may think for arranging an eco-friendly end of life ceremony, so you’re sure to find practices that align well with your loved one’s preferences. Here are a few of the factors that make a green burial different.
- Location: In the United States, there are over 90 registered green burial sites and memorial woodlands, which feel more like nature preserves than cemeteries. These locations are typically wooded areas that serve as a reminder that your loved one is returning to the Earth and contributing to new life. However, green burials do not need to occur at these locations. Any cemetery in the United States can allow green burial practices on their grounds, and some states even allow them to occur on your own land.
- Body preservation: An essential characteristic of the green burial process is the avoidance of embalming fluids. Chemicals like cancer-causing formaldehyde are involved with preserving a body and can harm the environment. Green burials frequently opt for dry ice as an Earth-friendly way to preserve a body before funeral ceremonies.
- Ceremony: A green burial ceremony itself can resemble a traditional ceremony, or differ depending on your preferences. Many families enjoy the ability to be more involved with natural burial. They can carry their loved one’s casket to a resting place in nature and lower it into the Earth. This involvement provides families with a deep sense of comfort and peace.
- Natural burial caskets: The container is a significant distinguishing factor for green burials. The body may be covered in a biodegradable shroud made of organic cotton, wool, or felt, or placed in a natural burial casket made of materials like hemp, bamboo, cork, banana leaf, recycled cardboard, untreated wood, or woven natural fibers. Those who organize green burials carefully choose materials that will help a body return to nature.
Why should I choose a natural burial?
The key purpose of choosing green burial practices is to minimize the environmental impact of death care processes, but people opt for these methods for many reasons. For one, green burial is usually much more affordable than traditional burial processes. Skipping embalming, expensive coffins, and vaults means you will save thousands of dollars in addition to minimizing your carbon footprint.
Green burial is also a way to align your burial with your values. Choosing this option offers peace of mind for an individual before their death. It also helps their loved ones know the arrangements are exactly what they would have wanted. Whether your loved one is an environmentalist, a gardener, or simply enjoys the thought of a more natural resting place, this choice can provide a sense of comfort for everyone involved.
Burying your loved one in nature also means you can associate their death with life. Each time you visit their grave, you’ll get to connect with nature and experience surroundings that remind you of life’s natural processes.
What are the laws involved?
As stated above, there are designated green burial sites across the United States and beyond. However, any traditional cemetery can allow natural burial, even if they are not known as a green burial site. In fact, federal law states that cemeteries must accept a coffin or shroud the family provides, rather than a traditional burial container.
Why is natural burial better for the environment?
Natural burial removes materials like concrete, wood, and chemicals from the end of life equation. According to the Green Burial Council, burials in the United States place 4.3 million gallons of embalming chemicals like formaldehyde into the ground each year. They also bury 20 million feet of wood including rainforest woods, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of steel annually. Many caskets and vaults leach toxic materials like iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt into the Earth.
Green burial avoids these harmful materials, opting instead for elements that allow nature to carry out its processes without interference. Environmentalists will say the best way to care for our planet is to minimize the harm we cause throughout our lives. Green burial allows us to carry that notion with us to our final resting places. Green burial plots are usually left to completely return to nature, as the body naturally decomposes and contributes to life in the surrounding ecosystem.
Many consider cremation to be an Earth-friendly alternative. However, green burial may be an even better choice for those looking to leave the planet better than they found it.
Deciding between natural burial and cremation
These days, many Americans are opting for cremation over traditional burial. They may have heard this method was more environmentally friendly, or they may prefer the thought of going from ashes to ashes, as they say. However, when deciding between cremation and green burial, you’ll want to understand the environmental impact of these methods.
One cremation takes as much energy, in the form of natural gas and electricity, as a 500-mile car journey. Around the world, cremation is said to put 6.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere every year. This is something to consider if an eco-friendly burial is your top priority.
Natural burial cost
In 2019, traditional burials in the United States reached a median cost of around $9,135 if the process involved a concrete vault. This does not include additional cemetery costs, monuments or markets, flowers, and other ceremony expenses.
By comparison, natural burial is much cheaper than traditional burial, costing between $1,000-$4,000 on average. These prices will vary depending on your preferences, but generally skipping the embalming process and traditional burial materials will save you as many as thousands of dollars on your loved one’s death care arrangements.
If you’re searching for a burial process that takes better care of the environment, you have plenty of options to choose from. Here are a few of the natural burial options available to you. Some of these methods have been around for years, while others are newly emerging.
- Woodland burial: There are many woodland memorial sites where you can lay your loved one to rest. These often feel like walking through a forest, reminding you of the natural processes of life. Some of these locations even allow families to choose flowers or plants to place atop their loved one’s grave as a beautiful alternative to cut flowers and decorations.
- Natural burial in a traditional cemetery: If your family is buried in one location, your loved one may wish to be buried there as well. You can choose natural burial practices and containers to use at your family’s chosen cemetery.
- Tree burial: Biodegradable burial pods allow your loved one’s body to help grow a new tree. In addition to growing new life, this option gives the family a natural marker to return to. Often, these trees are tracked by GPS to eliminate the environmental harm caused by concrete grave markers.
- Conservation burial: This type of burial allows your loved one’s burial costs to go toward environmental restoration and conservation efforts. This is an additional way your loved one’s death can contribute to a better planet.
How to decide on a burial method
Discussing green burial with your loved one may feel uncomfortable at first, but an ongoing dialogue surrounding death care can provide a sense of peace. Here are a few ideas for discussing green burial with your loved one.
- Listen to your loved one’s preferences surrounding their death care. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and present alternatives to traditional practices.
- Introduce the idea of green burial as a way to honor your loved one’s life. Discuss the locations and environmental benefits if they are open to these ideas.
- If your loved one has already passed, discuss these options with your family. Determine the best way to honor your loved one’s values no matter which method you choose.
Deciding on a burial method is a deeply personal decision, and green burial offers more choices for your loved one’s final resting place. Natural burial is a beautiful way to honor your loved one while also contributing to new life. If you’re searching for an alternative to traditional burial practices, this cost-effective and environmentally friendly method may be the best fit for you.
- Thinking About Having a ‘Green’ Funeral? Here’s What to Know, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/smarter-living/green-funeral-burial-environment.html
- Media Pack, Green Burial Council, https://www.greenburialcouncil.org/media_packet.html
- Green Burial Sites in the United States, US Funerals Online, https://www.us-funerals.com/funeral-articles/directory-of-green-burial-sites-in-the-united-states.html#.X2YfTpMzblw
- Body disposal technology widens green funeral choice, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-death-funerals/body-disposal-technology-widens-green-funeral-choice-idUSBRE88C0HA20120914?feedType=RSS&feedName=scienceNews&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&dlvrit=309301
- The environmental toll of cremating the dead, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/11/is-cremation-environmentally-friendly-heres-the-science/
- Statistics, National Funeral Directors Association, https://nfda.org/news/statistics
- Guide to Green Burial – A Natural Approach to Funerals, Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage, https://www.lhlic.com/consumer-resources/green-burial/