Funeral Planning: What is a “Green” Funeral?

In recent years, efforts to “Go Green” have affected everything from your choice of disposable cups (ditch the Styrofoam) to the types of cars we buy (so long Hummer).  Not everyone realizes, though, that even funeral planning has been affected by our renewed environmental consciousness.  There is a growing trend within the funeral industry, prompted by environmental activists, to move to “Green” funerals.

So what is a Green funeral?  Green burial is known by several different names: Conservation Burial, Natural Burial, and eco-burials.  The three most basic differences between a regular burial and a Green burial are:

  • Formaldehyde is not used as an embalming fluid
  • No vault is typically built within the gravesite
  • Coffins are made out of biodegradable materials

The most significant difference in the burial process when funeral planning for a Green burial is the removal of formaldehyde as an embalming fluid.  Studies have shown that formaldehyde is a health risk for those who are exposed to it for long periods of time (like funeral workers).  There is also concern about what happens over time when it seeps into our waterways as the result of cemetery burials and decomposition.

Contrary to popular belief, embalming is not required by most states, unless transportation of the body is required across state lines, or a significant delay in burial is necessary.  In most cases a body can be kept preserved in a cooler or on dry ice for as long as four days.  In the event that embalming is deemed necessary, there are non-toxic embalming fluids now available, like glutaraldehyde.

The use of concrete vaults in gravesites has also come under criticism.  Some estimates say that as much as 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete is used each year in the U.S. as part of the burial process.  The frustration for many Green funeral enthusiasts is that most cemeteries require the use of reinforced vaults within the gravesite to help eliminate the settling of the land around the burial plot over time, making cemetery lawn maintenance more difficult.

In reaction to these requirements, there are an increasing number of Green Burial Grounds being established around the country.  If you are a conservationist, you should definitely consider self-arranged funeral planning to help ensure that you leave the world in the same way that you have tried to live in it.

Coffins made from materials such as wicker, bamboo, jute, or cardboard each provide rapid, biodegradable options.  Some people chose to skip a coffin altogether, opting instead to use shrouds.

Another option is to choose to skip a burial entirely, choosing instead to be cremated.  You should be sure to ask the crematorium what they are doing to reduce crematory emissions.  Though there is cause for concern regarding cremation to the carbon emissions and worries over mercury pollution, cause by the burning of mercury tooth fillings, the fact of the matter is, for people who live in areas where Green burial cannot take place due to cemetery regulations, cremation is ultimately a more environmentally friendly choice.

Another means of “Greening” your funeral planning, is to include plans for creating a memorial landscape, using native trees and plants.  This is a wonderful way to create a beautiful, meaningful memorial spot for someone who was cremated.

If your funeral planning is to include plans for a Green funeral, be sure to research more about the process.   The Green Burial Council is a nonprofit organization that was found to help promote and support natural burial options.  The Green Burial Council also certifies cemeteries and their operators as ecofriendly businesses.  You can access their list of approved providers by visiting their website.

Written By: C. Denise Stewart is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Fl.  She is a regular contributor to “Funeral Services Advice” and writes frequently on the topic of funeral planning and how to sell cemetery plots.

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