Fear of the decomposing corpse reached a fever pitch, and cities and towns passed laws banning human burials within their borders. This marked the beginning of sanitizing death and the beginning of a funeral industry that today rakes in $16 billion annually in the U.S. alone. But we’re starting to see a backlash to these modern-day burial methods as the idea of green burial is gaining momentum in the United States once again.
What is a green burial service?
Also known as “natural burial,” the Green Burial Council describes a green burial as something that.
- Impacts the environment minimally while caring for the dead
- Conserves natural resources
- Limits carbon emissions
- Protects workers’ health
- Promotes the restoration or preservation of habitat
Basically it is returning the body back to the earth in its natural form to decompose naturally with bugs and all that stuff.
The main features of today’s green burials include using:
- No toxic chemicals, including embalming fluid
- Biodegradable caskets
- Biodegradable shrouds or urns
- Minimizing the use of fossil fuels for burial
The Green Burial Council differ in their requirements for some areas so check it out and make sure a potential site matches your wants and needs. (For instance, some are certified to remain a preserve in perpetuity, while others aren’t.)
- Hybrid. These burial sites are generally conventional cemeteries that offer a “green” section, allowing for the burial of umembalmed bodies in biodegradable caskets or shrouds. The cemetery may still allow the use of pesticides, turf lawn and non-native plants.
- Natural burial grounds. Only unembalmed bodies are buried at these sites. Toxic chemicals, cement and metal vaults, traditional marble/stone grave markets and caskets made of non-biodegradable materials are banned. These burial sites also implement waste-reducing and energy-conserving guidelines to improve sustainability.
- Conservation burial sites. This is the gold standard green burial if you’re looking to support land conservation. These burial grounds require an independent conservation group, like a land trust, to oversee the land. This ensures it will remain as a conservation easement or land permanently preserved in its natural state.
Is it legal to have a natural burial?
- Yes, but not all cemeteries offer this option.
- Kinkaraco, a green funeral products company, keeps a state-by-state list of green cemeteries that do not require embalming, a grave liner or vault.
- Or course, lobbying your local cemetery to open a green section for natural burials is also an option to bring green services to your community.
- Check your state and local laws to see if you can create an area of your property to be zoned as a “home cemetery.” The rules and requirements may differ depending on how many people you may want to bury on your family’s land … and the acreage of your plot of land. And you will likely need to register coordinates of buried bodies with local officials. (7)
- If you plan a burial on your private property, be sure to check state and local laws regarding who may fill out a death certificate and file it with the local registrar.
- If opting for a home funeral, you can choose to work with a home funeral-friendly funeral home to help prepare the body or you and family members can prepare the body with gentle soap and essential oils. Look for a home funeral guide from your state to help direct you through the legalities and options available.
Are coffins biodegradable?
- If you’re opting for a green burial, you’ll want to bypass coffin options offered in most conventional funeral homes.
- Natural burials commonly use a natural fiber bed sheet, biodegradable shroud, a pine, seagrass or wicker box, natural papier-mâché or even a cardboard box. The general idea is that it’s natural, untreated wood or organic fiber. That way, it’ll break down and enhance the soil, not harm it.
- You’ll want to avoid any stains, varnishes, paints or other finishes because they likely contain harmful chemicals. Stick to untreated.
- Many green burial sites also allow loved ones to bury cremated remains.
- Ashes after a cremation are inorganic bone fragments. You can grow a tree over the ashes, but they aren’t actually feeding the tree or soil.