Cost savings and reduced impact on the environment are two of the main reasons that “green burial,” also known as “natural burial,” is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. Instead of an expensive coffin, bushels of flowers, embalming, and a number of other embellishments, a green funeral is a pared-down, eco-friendly option that typically requires far fewer resources. In 2018, nearly three quarters of cemeteries reported an increased demand for green burials.
What exactly is a green burial?
A green burial minimizes negative environmental effects by forgoing embalming, skipping concrete vaults, rethinking burial containers, and maintaining and protecting natural habitat. Choices can be made at each step of the death care process to limit waste, reduce the carbon footprint, and even nourish the local ecosystem. Replacing the traditional add-ons with other options–or scrapping them altogether–can save significant money as well as the environment.
The extent to how “green” a burial can be is up to the individual. The service could be as simple as wrapping the deceased in a cotton shroud before lowering them into the ground. Or the service can become much more complicated, involving a memorial ceremony and burial in a conservation park where families can plant a variety of plants, flowers and shrubs on the grave.
Why would I want one?
For many people who opt for a green burial, the decision comes down to cost, environmental impact, and legacy.
Most hybrid cemeteries — those offering both conventional and green burials — report that graves intended for green burial cost the same or somewhat less than their conventional counterparts; after the costs of vaults, coffins and embalming are factored in, the savings a green burial offers are significant.
As the name implies, green burial is environmentally friendly. Done away with are the embalming chemicals and the extraneous cement, steel, or other non-biodegradable materials that conventional burials put into the earth. They also lack the carbon footprint of cremation, which has been calculated to be the equivalent of a 500-mile car journey.
Perhaps the most personal reason of all is one where the idea of green burial simply speaks to a person. They might find comfort in their body “returning to nature,” or want to take part in a conservation burial, where burial fees are also used to cover land protection, restoration, and management. The burial area becomes hallowed ground, restored to its natural condition and protected forever with a conservation easement.
When you Can’t Go Green
A green burial encapsulates a wider range of decisions, from how to where. If there aren’t green cemeteries where you live, there are still plenty of ways to minimize the burial process’s environmental impact.
Substitute concrete vaults and toxic burial containers for coffins made with sustainably harvested wood and organic liners, and check if products or components were transported over long distances, which can increase the carbon footprint.
You also shouldn’t feel limited by what a funeral home is selling you — by federal law, they’re required to accept a coffin provided by the customer at no extra charge. Or skip the coffin altogether. A shroud made from organic, biodegradable cotton can be purchased online or even at the local fabric store. One source for biodegradable caskets, coffins, urns, and shrouds is https://www.naturalburialcompany.com/
In the metro Atlanta area, options are available for being buried in a woodland or pasture area. The cemeteries that offer these services are known as Green Burial Cemeteries, Conservation Burial Grounds, and Natural Burial Grounds. There are at least two exclusively natural burial grounds in Georgia:
For a directory of green burial sites in the US, click HERE.
For answers to questions about natural burial, click HERE.
For a list of providers, information, and additional resources, click HERE.