Friends, we gather here today to talk about the dearly departed, a topic we would probably prefer not to think about. But think about it we must, especially if we want ourselves or our loved ones to “pass on” in a manner that’s as green as possible. Green funeral and green burial options exist today that can make a big difference for the environment.
Modern funeral and burial practices are not at all environmentally friendly. From formaldehyde in embalming fluid, to air pollution from cremation, to burying large amounts of concrete, the natural process of going back to nature has been interrupted in many ways. The Green Burial Council told CNN that the US alone buries 827,000 tons of toxic embalming fluid, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 90,000 tons of steel (in caskets), and 30 million tons of hardwood every year. That’s a tremendous amount of waste.
Funeral homes, cemeteries and burial product companies are increasingly going green in the face of demand from consumers. The Green Burial Council is helping this along; it has developed an independent eco-certification label for these kinds of businesses to demonstrate that their green claims are real.
Here are six ways you can have a green funeral and burial in ways that won’t harm the environment:
1) Forget the fancy casket. Modern coffins have all kinds of materials that are no good for the environment, from non-biodegradable plastics to metal. Opt for a basic wooden casket such as those built by A Simple Pine Box. These coffins are biodegradable and will leave hardly a trace.
2) Forgo embalming. As previously mentioned, embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a likely carcinogenic that should not be making its way into the environment. Not using embalming may mean that a funeral must happen more quickly. However, alternatives do exist for keeping a body long enough for a funeral, such as keeping the body in dry ice or refrigerated. Check your state’s or country’s laws, but at least in the US the use of embalming should not be required except under specific circumstances.
3) Look for a green funeral home certified by the Green Burial Council. Green funeral homes have adopted environmentally friendly practices in their preparation and burial techniques, making it much easier for you to get a green burial rather than having to argue with a funeral director unfamiliar with what you want. Certified green funeral homes are still few and far between, but I’m sure the list will grow with time (check this page to see what’s available).
4) Look for a green cemetery. According to the Council’s certification standards, there are four kinds of green cemeteries:
- Hybrid burial grounds, which are conventional cemeteries that allow burial without concrete vaults or embalming and with eco-friendly containers;
- Low-impact burial grounds, which require non-toxic and energy-conserving burial practices–either in a section of a conventional cemetery or totally separately;
- Natural burial grounds, which meet low-impact standards and additionally provide a naturalistic appearance with local plants and animals present;
- Conservation burial grounds, which meet natural burial standards plus being land that has been forever designated as a conservation area.
From a green perspective, a hybrid or low-impact green cemetery should be enough for ensuring an eco friendly burial.
5) Don’t use a concrete vault. Check the laws in your locality, but concrete vaults should not be required. Cemeteries are increasingly allowing vaultless funerals either for a fee or for free, and green cemeteries prohibit them entirely. All that concrete doesn’t belong in the ground, and it takes a tremendous amount of energy to create and transport it all.
6) Use an eco friendly cremation disposition program. Cremation is far greener than the typical burial, but has a carbon footprint associated with the energy used. One very interesting option if you go the cremation route is to “neutralize” the carbon footprint by ensuring that your ashes are used to build or preserve habitat. An excellent example of this is Eternal Reefs, a business that builds artificial memorial reefs out of concrete mixed with the ashes of people wanting to become part of a permanent aquatic ecosystem. The concrete is lowered to the ocean floor and it eventually becomes a living, breathing habitat for fish and many forms of marine life.
Nobody wants to think about dying, but what’s the use of worrying about green living during our lives if we poison the environment when we pass away? By requesting a green funeral and burial, we can allow ourselves to return to the environment in a way that helps the Earth renew the cycle of life.