What makes a green burial "green"?
In order for a burial to be "green," the body should have as little impact upon the earth as possible. The main areas of consideration in a green burial are:
- The conservation of natural resources
- The preservation of the environment
- The protection of the health of industry workers
Reasons to have a green burial
More and more, people are concerned with the impact that humans have on the earth. Choosing a green burial—using green burial products and being buried in a green cemetery or natural burial ground—is a way to lessen your impact and reduce your "carbon footprint."
Many people view green burial as the traditional way of being buried, and a return to the way people were buried before the industrialization and commercialization of funerals.
How green burial conserves natural resources
Green caskets are made from sustainably produced materials from renewable sources. Conventional caskets, on the other hand, are often made out of materials such as wood or steel that are not produced in sustainable ways.
How green burial preserves the environment
Green caskets are easily biodegradable, don’t add toxins to the earth as they decompose, and are often produced in a way that's carbon-neutral. Commercially produced caskets, on the other hand, can take an extraordinarily long time to break down in the soil, especially if the casket contains any metal parts, such as handles and hinges. Most commercially produced caskets have chemical treatments, such as paint or veneer, which seep into the soil as the casket breaks down. And the manufacturing and transport of conventional caskets and outer burial containers requires a huge amount of energy and causes significant carbon emissions.
Green cemeteries and natural burial grounds require that green caskets or a shroud be used when the body is buried, and prohibit the use of outer burial containers. This helps to maintain the natural habitat of the environment, including maintaining clean groundwater, preserving the natural landscape, and providing an environment for native plants and animals to thrive. Conventional cemeteries often use herbicides to maintain the grass, which can be absorbed into the earth; outer burial containers, which impede the decomposition of the body and take an extremely long time to decompose; and allow embalmed bodies to be buried, which results in formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals to enter the earth.
How green burial protects of the health of industry workers
Green burial prohibits conventional embalming, both to protect the environment once the body is buried and to protect the health of funeral home workers. Conventional embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a carcinogen that's been proven to pose health risks to people who have regular exposure to the chemical. There are now formaldehyde-free alternatives to conventional embalming fluid, however, make up mostly of essential oils, which have been approved by the Green Burial Council and will not harm the health of the embalmer.
Many green caskets are made by companies that have been fair trade-certified, which ensures that the people making the caskets are employed in safe environments and receive a fair wage for their work. And because green caskets do not have chemical-based paints or finishes on them, there are no toxic by-products released into the environment where the caskets are produced.
How to have a green burial
There are a number of ways you can engage with "green" or environmentally friendly practices when planning a burial. The features of a burial that can be "green" include:
- Working with a certified green or green-friendly funeral home
- Burying the body in a green casket or shroud
- Burying the body in a green cemetery or a natural burial ground
- Burying the body without an outer burial container (burial vault or grave liner)
- Marking the grave with a green headstone
How to find "green" funeral resources
If you'll be working with a green funeral home, they will likely have access to many of the environmentally friendly resources you'll need in order to have a green burial. If you'll be working with a conventional funeral home, you may have to identify the green resources you'll need on your own.