Green Burial & Funerals Guide: What You Need To Know

I would have to say this probably the biggest trend I’ve seen over the last decade.

And this trend is the changing attitudes and habits towards having a more environmentally friendly funeral and burial.

We call this a green or eco-friendly funeral.

In this guide I’ll explain everything you need to know about a green burial.

What Is a Green Burial?

In its purest form, green burial simply means burial in a natural setting using sustainable, eco-friendly practices and materials.

Typically, it means no embalming. Caskets and shrouds are biodegradable. Flat rocks or trees are used as grave markers instead of traditional standing headstones.

These practices minimize the effect that a burial has on the environment and (in most cases) your budget, too.

The Benefits

Are you considering a green burial?

There are many great reasons to opt for this.

In fact, people have been doing green burial for thousands of years.

Here are some of the reasons it’s starting to come back into style.

Environmentally Friendly

This is the most obvious reason. But it is definitely comforting to know that your death and burial will not have a lasting negative impact on the environment.

In fact, your remains can be a part of nature’s own cycle of death and rebirth.

Green burial means using less land, contributing to better habitats for native plants and animals.

It also means keeping the chemicals in embalming fluids (as well as several square feet of wood or metal) out of the earth.

It’s Cheaper

By choosing green burial, you eliminate the cost of embalming.

You also use alternative caskets or shrouds which are significantly cheaper than the traditional metal or wood caskets you might purchase from a funeral home. In most cases, you will not have to pay for a vault, either.

All of these savings can really minimize the financial burden that you or your family might face in planning a funeral.

Offers a Non-Traditional Option

When it comes to any tradition, there is always a moment when we ask why we are still doing it.

Many of our traditions around death and burial have become rote- we do them without thinking.

But green burial allows you to break the mold in the way that we think about death…and about life.

With your burial, you can make a statement for the generations that come after you. And that’s a wonderful legacy.

It’s Spiritual

There’s something about the cycle of nature that is deeply spiritual.

When a body decomposes, it becomes part of the soil that nurtures new life.

Plants and trees are nourished by that soil to provide food and shelter for living creatures.

Just like the changing seasons, nature provides a comforting sense of timelessness and eternity.

Green Burial Council

If you are feeling inspired by the idea of a green burial, you might be interested in checking out the Green Burial Council.

Here is everything you need to know.

Who They Are

The Green Burial Council is a group that advocates for natural, sustainable death care.

They believe in the sacredness of end-of-life rituals and endeavor to preserve these, while still showing care for the earth.

They provide education, resources, and certification for those who want to embrace the practices of green burial.

Their Standards

The core mission of the Green Burial Council consists of the following values:

  • Respect for rituals

  • Honoring the earth

  • Honoring traditions around funerals and burial

  • Integrity in their operations

  • Sustainability both environmentally and operationally

  • Leadership in making green burial services available to all

To that end, they provide certification to cemeteries and funeral directors who offer green services.

Certification

A team works under the Green Burial Council to maintain up-to-date standards for burial providers and cemeteries.

This means that any cemetery or funeral home director certified by the Green Burial Council is trustworthy, and has met very high standards for integrity and sustainability.

Certification is conducted by independent third-party experts.

Green Cemeteries

It can be hard to find a cemetery that embraces “green” burial practices.

However, as this trend continues to rise in popularity, we are seeing more of them.

What Makes Them Green?

To be GSB-certified as a Natural Burial Ground, a green cemetery must accept only naturally prepared bodies in biodegradable containers.

In addition, land is planted only with natural and beneficial plants. It is managed only through natural means (not mechanically or chemically). Also there are guidelines in place regarding water conservation.

Finding a Cemetery

The Green Burial Council provides an interactive map showing the locations of certified Natural Burial Grounds throughout the United States and Canada.

You can also find natural funeral home providers and hybrid cemeteries.

These can be found as far north as Quebec City and as far south as Boca Raton, from California all the way to Cambridge, MA.

There are several options when considering the location of a green burial.

Normal cemetery

Some traditional cemeteries allow green burial.

You can ask them if they require a burial vault or a grave liner.

The Green Burial Council has certified some cemeteries as “hybrids,” meaning that they allow green burials in addition to conventional ones.

Natural burial grounds

A GSB-certified natural burial ground accepts only bodies that have been prepared naturally and placed in biodegradable containers.

Even the land and water is managed according to strict standards of sustainability.

Recomposition facility

Although not yet a commonly accepted burial option, recomposition facilities are beginning to emerge as a new, eco-friendly burial option.

This is a process of converting human remains into soil, allowing them to easily nourish new life.

An organization called Recompose.life is currently seeking approval in Washington State.

What Are the Options?

No green burial will be like any other green burial.

There are a number of options you can consider to make a green burial unique.

The location, as well as the type of materials used, are all matters for consideration.

Burial Site

There’s no need to confine yourself to a cemetery. Plenty of options are available for a green burial site.

Here are a few ideas.

In The Woods

Sometimes, conventional cemeteries set aside a wooded area dedicated to eco-friendly burial.

No vehicles are typically allowed in this area. It is only accessible on foot, giving it a peaceful feel.

Because mechanical equipment is not allowed, all graves are dug by hand.

Open Meadow

A meadow is a peaceful setting in which the remains of your loved one may gradually become one with nature.

Here too, graves are dug by hand and natural boulders are used as grave markers.

Rather than standing out as a grave marker does in traditional cemeteries, your loved one’s final resting place simply looks like part of the natural landscape.

Natural Burial Park

A number of GSB-certified burial grounds are designed in the same way as any national park.

Although grave sites are marked, the emphasis is on nature.

Besides visiting a loved one’s resting place, you also get to enjoy trees, plants and wildlife thriving in their native habitat.

Biodegradable Casket

These alternative caskets may be built from a variety of materials including wicker, pine wood, cardboard or even banana leaves.

In some cases, artisans put care and attention into giving these coffins a unique and beautiful look. In other cases, they are quite plain and simple.

Some of them can even be decorated with personal messages before they are buried and begin to naturally decompose.

Shroud

This is simply a piece of fabric used to wrap the body during burial.

It can be made of muslin, wool, cotton, silk or even bamboo.

Some are plain and others may be quite decorative. Even just a plain bedsheet works fine as a shroud.

Some people may purchase a pattern to craft their own for a personal touch.

Green Burial Costs

Overall, green burial typically costs less than traditional burial in a cemetery.

Here is a breakdown of average costs.

Keep in mind that these costs can vary depending on where you live.

It’s also important to remember that, in most cases, cremation will be cheaper than any kind of burial, even a green one.

  • Burial plot: $1500-$3000

  • Opening and closing the grave: $1200

  • Shroud: $299-$1100

  • Endowment fee: $180

Common Questions

Now that you’ve learned a few things about green burial, you may be wondering if this option is the right choice for you or for a loved one.

Here are some answers to common questions you might have in making this decision.

Are Natural Burials Legal Everywhere?

Green burials are legal.

But keep in mind that individual cemeteries have their own rules and regulations.

For example, some cemeteries require you to use a burial vault and a coffin. However, this is not the law, simply that cemetery’s policy.

What Are Blended Funerals?

Truthfully, each person is different. There is no “black and white” when deciding whether to have a green burial.

In a blended funeral, elements of a green burial and/or a home funeral are combined with the elements of more traditional practices.

This gives you more freedom in deciding what you want.

Is Embalming Necessary?

Embalming is not required or necessary.

In some cases, it might be desirable during a viewing to make the body appear more natural when on display.

But if you are looking to minimize the environmental impact of burial, cutting out embalming is the simplest and most cost-effective way to do so.

How Deep Are the Bodies Buried?

In a green burial, bodies are buried relatively close to the surface, usually only 3-4 feet deep.

That’s because there is more nutrient-rich soil close to the surface rather than the traditional six feet under.

It also means a freer flow of oxygen so that natural decomposition occurs faster.

Other Green Funeral Ideas

Maybe eco-friendly funeral practices appeal to you, but you are not interested in a green burial.

There are plenty of other ways to celebrate a loved one’s passing without harming the earth.

Here are just a few ideas.

Water Cremation

This is similar to traditional cremation, except without any flames. Instead, it uses a solution of water and potassium hydroxide to dissolve remains into ash.

The body is placed in a vat of this solution and then heated to a temperature of about 300℉, dissolving the soft tissue and leaving behind nothing but bones.

Unlike flame-based cremation, the bones are left in a clean, smooth condition.

The process emits far less carbon than traditional cremation, making it more eco-friendly.

Other names for water cremation are bio cremation, resomation or aquamation.

Burial Or Scattering At Sea

Scattering or burying ashes at sea can be a moving and beautiful way to say goodbye to a loved one.

You can scatter them from a boat or use a beautiful biodegradable urn, which floats and then slowly sinks in the water.

A sea scattering or burial is the perfect opportunity to hold a meaningful and unique ceremony.

Such a ceremony might have a religious element, incorporating the services of a Christian minister.

Or you can plan something much more casual and less structured, reflecting the personality of the deceased person.

Tree Urn

It’s hard to imagine a more eco-friendly act than planting a tree. And tree urns allow you to do this in the process of burying cremation ashes.

Once ordered, you receive a cremation tree pod, structured so that the tree’s roots connect with the ashes as it grows.

Once planted, the pod (along with the cremation ash) becomes part of the land as the tree grows.

Home Burial

Burial on your own private property is another popular option among those who want an eco-friendly, sustainable funeral.

If you are diligent about observing state and local regulations, you can even establish your own family cemetery at your home.

Keep in mind that only family members are allowed to be buried on private property.

Additionally, note that home burial is illegal in Arkansas, California, Indiana, Louisiana, Washington State and Washington, D.C.

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