A Greener Funeral

by Lauren Verini

Death is one of those topics that people tend to just avoid, and surely not one we discuss regularly here on Eco18. But for people who live a natural and green lifestyle, it’s important to know your options when it comes to funeral and burial services. There are numerous reasons to consider a green funeral including its environmental benefits, but they often times offer a more personal mourning experience for friends and family and are a more affordable option than conventional funerals. Generally a person’s third largest expense in life, followed only by the purchase of a house and a car, is a funeral. There are many different shades of green to choose from when it comes to having a green funeral that can include everything from small changes like utilizing a sustainable casket made of pinewood, choosing to be buried in a green cemetery to choosing not to be embalmed.

Embalming fluid is made up of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde and phenol that can be leaked into sewer systems during the embalming process and are dangerous to people working at the funeral homes. A 2009 study by the National Cancer Institute revealed that funeral directors have a much higher risk for developing myeloid leukemia due to the embalming fluid. Now there are different options when it comes to embalming including formaldehyde-free embalming fluids, or you could choose not to be embalmed at all. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, embalming is rarely required by law and funeral homes can offer refrigeration as an alternative.

No vaults or coffins are used in a green burial as well as no chemicals, and instead the deceased are buried either in a biodegradable shroud or a pine coffin. Being buried in this manner helps the body to decompose and become a part of the earth without altering  or harming its surroundings. Green burials are nothing new, and were actually commonplace before the mid-19th century. Green burials have experienced a growth in popularity as more people becoming interested in living a green lifestyle and conserving the environment. There are currently 300 approved eco-friendly burial providers in the U.S. according to the Green Burial Council, while there were only a dozen in 2008.

Another option available is to be buried in a green cemetery, which often times looks more like a park or a forest since there are no tombstones and there are native plants and trees planted all around to help preserve the areas natural habitat. In a green cemetery, the grass is not landscaped so there is no need for chemical treatments and gas-powered lawn mowers. To mark a grave, families can use natural markers like stones or plant a tree.

Many people choose to be cremated however this process does require energy and burns fossil fuels. A new process called bio-cremation or alkaline hydrolysis speeds up the process of cremation without the harmful effects that regular cremation has on the environment. Even if you choose a regular cremation you can still make it a bit greener with biodegradable urns. A unique urn option is to have a sea burial with loved ones ashes. Great Burial Reef urns, for instance, are placed in the ocean and begin to attract and foster marine wildlife. Over time the urn becomes a part of the ocean’s habitat and is indistinguishable from the natural reefs in the ocean.

For people who feel that living a green and natural lifestyle is important to them, considering a green funeral and burial may be something to consider. While we don’t always want to think about these types of things, doing some research ahead of time, knowing your options and sharing your preferences with loved ones is important. Check out the Green Burial Council’s website to find out more about green funeral providers, cemeteries and products available. You can also visit the Natural Burial Co-Operative’s website to see a breakdown of the laws for green burials in each state and learn more about green burials at the Funeral Consumer Alliance’s website.


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