The natural (or green) burial movement is based on the belief that death care practices don’t have to be harmful to the environment. Even cremation, which many consider to be more environmentally friendly than traditional burial, is really more of a gray area than a green option. The following ideas may help you consider how to plan a green funeral for yourself or a loved one.
One of the most harmful and toxic chemicals used for traditional burial is embalming fluid containing formaldehyde. Many natural burial advocates suggest using refrigeration or eco-friendly embalming fluid as an alternative option for preserving the body. Refrigeration over a long period of time can be expensive, so when planning ahead, ensure that your funeral will be able to be held in a relatively short period of time. If you know that you will want to have a public viewing, consider specifying that you prefer formaldehyde-free embalming fluid. The Green Burial Council, one of America’s largest natural burial organizations, notes that in addition to the benefits to nature, these processes are also better for funeral worker health.
Biodegradable Casket or Shroud
A variety of coffins, caskets, or shrouds can be found on the market that are made from biodegradable substances like silk, willow, bamboo or hemp. Even simple (sustainably harvested) wood caskets are good options, and a stand-by for hundreds of years before modern burial practices emerged.
Burial in a Traditional Cemetery
Some cemeteries require a concrete grave liner or vault to encase the casket and prevent the ground from sinking over time. If you don’t have a green cemetery or natural preserve in your area, one option could be to place a biodegradable casket in contact with the earth, and to then install the vault (without a lid) over the casket. This allows the casket to degrade naturally, while preserving the cemetery’s landscape.
Eco-Friendly Grave Markers
C.A. Beal, a natural burial advocate in the United Kingdom, considers (among other natural burial concerns) the maintenance and upkeep that is required when concrete monuments, which will eventually sink into the soil, are erected to mark gravesites. Rather than interfere with nature in this way, she suggests having a memorial tree planted over your grave. In addition to providing a place for loved ones to visit and reflect, it will also make your last act one that gives back to earth in a simple yet enduring way. Other green options include a shrub, a rose bush, perennial flowers or a large rock or engraved stone. Most cemeteries today offer GPS location to find a loved one’s grave. If your preferred cemetery does not allow for non-traditional grave markers, opt for a lower-impact version, such as a small plaque.
Natural burial does not necessarily negate having a visitation, a funeral service, or a permanent place for loved ones to visit and grieve. In many ways, a green burial can offer loved ones even greater comfort knowing that you are participating in the natural cycle of life and death, even after life has come to a close.