As a society, we’re becoming more aware of the long-term environmental impact our lives have on the environment. This awareness has led some people to not only want to make environmentally friendly choices in their day-to-day lives but in the afterlife as well.
For many, seeking a green burial is a way to mitigate a funeral's impact and continue giving back to the environment long after their death.
Green or eco-friendly burials are part of an emerging trend in the funeral industry.
The main purpose of a green burial is to eliminate or reduce actions that contribute to the degradation of the environment.
Ideally, green burials should avoid both local and global contributions to a worsening environment.
Green burials catch on around the world
One way green burials aim to minimize a person's environmental impact is by eliminating potential hazards, including toxic embalming chemicals and non-biodegradable materials like cement and steel that are typically put in the ground in conventional burials.
Similarly, many people seeking a green burial often have concerns about cremation because of the massive carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions inherent in incinerating a human body.
Another aim of green burials is to conserve natural resources. Cutting down hardwood trees to build high-grade coffins, for example, isn't necessarily the best use of the materials, even if the supplier sustainably harvested them.
Many folks also want their burials to give back to nature by improving the soil and promoting growth. This makes above-ground vaults and even some large cemeteries a concern because they can take away natural spaces.
Broadly speaking, green burials tend to appeal to individuals who care about the environment. Some people may also choose the green approach because it’s more cost-effective and less showy. On a spiritual level, there is an appeal in returning the body to nature, too.
Culturally, some people find that observing the unpreserved or naturally preserved body offers greater emotional closure compared to the traditional effort to present corpses as life-like bodies that are merely at rest.
Given the trend toward green funerals and burials over the last few decades, more and more cemeteries and funeral directors are offering eco-friendly options. However, it's important to make sure they provide the specific services you desire.
Many professional organizations in the funeral industry now offer directories of businesses that use green methods, which can easily be found online. It’s also a good idea to study a cemetery's list of restrictions before choosing one to make sure eco-friendly practices continue past the burial process.
If you can't find a designated provider of green funerals or burials in your area, there are still some ways to customize your choices and mitigate some elements of the modern process.
One way is to forgo the embalming process to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals. You can also ask about using a shroud or a biodegradable casket instead of a traditional casket.
There are numerous ways to make a burial eco-friendly, so you should look for one that appeals to your beliefs and interests. Below are some of the most popular green burials offered today.
Mushrooms and other fungi release chemicals that decompose dead plants and other organisms—including humans. A mushroom burial suit is essentially a shroud lined with mushroom spores that a person can be wrapped in after they die. It promotes the body’s natural decomposition, ultimately returning it to the soil, where it can be used to nourish other organisms.
Body farms are academic or government operations that exist to study how human bodies decompose naturally. They help scientists understand how different environmental factors affect the decomposition of the human body, providing essential information to assist detectives and other law enforcement officials in solving crimes.
If you’re interested in this green option that can have both a positive societal and environmental impact, you can contact a body farm in your area to make future arrangements.
Composting or recomposition is a similar process to the mushroom shroud and the body farm. First referred to as the Urban Death Project, this idea to compost human bodies began in the U.S. in Seattle in 2012. They use a process by which wood chips, air circulation and water are used to speed up decomposition, naturally turning the human body into nutrient-rich soil.
Bear in mind, however, that few states allow this approach—among them are Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and California.
Sky burials are traditional in some Buddhist cultures. The goal is to place the body in an area where vultures will consume it, returning the nutrients to the world and scoring karma points along the way.
Aquamation is a process that dissolves the body using a solution of alkaline water, sodium hydroxide, and potassium hydroxide. This natural process only takes about 20 hours and is currently an option in about 15 U.S. states.
A skeleton is left behind, and the family can either bury it or have it cremated. Once more, some state laws may limit this as an option.
A tree pod burial involves putting the cremated remains of a person inside a biodegradable pod that is then buried under a newly planted tree. The cremated remains provide nutrients to the tree, helping it grow and creating new life. The tree also serves as an alternative to the traditional gravestone.
Many people see this burial method as a way to continue to give back to the Earth and live on after death.
Preparing for death is never a pleasant task, but it can be comforting to know that you can make choices about your burial that reflect your values and have a positive environmental impact after you’re gone.
While there are still some logistical and legal issues with green burials, they’re becoming far more popular and accessible, allowing virtually anyone to find an option that best suits their beliefs.