green burial

Green Burial Guide – What is a Natural Funeral?

We know that Estate Planning is a deeply personal experience, which is why we’re dedicated to educating you on your options so that you can make an informed decision that’s best for you and your loved ones. 

With so many types of funerals to choose from, finding the right fit can feel overwhelming. But it’s important to have a plan in place in advance in order to guarantee your wishes will be upheld after your passing. One alternative that’s growing in demand is a green burial, or natural burial. 

Potentially interested in this eco-friendly option? Explore our guide where we: 

What Is A Green Burial? 

A green burial (also referred to as a natural burial) is one where the body makes as little impact on the earth as possible. The official Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization, defines the process as “a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental repercussions.” Natural burials are well-regarded and becoming increasingly popular because they:

  • Conserve natural resources
  • Reduce carbon emissions
  • Protect the health of industry workers 
  • Preserve natural habitats 
  • And more

We’ll dive deeper into the benefits later.

With a green burial, the body of the deceased is neither cremated nor embalmed.  It is instead preserved via refrigeration or dry ice, subsequently placed into a biodegradable coffin or shroud (no concrete burial vault necessary) and laid into the ground. The ultimate goal with natural burials is complete decomposition of the body and its organic return to the soil. 

Have we piqued your curiosity? Keep reading for a breakdown of exactly how the process works. 

How to Have a Green Burial

If you are sure you want to have a green burial, you can make arrangements to do so in your Will. If those specifications aren’t made, a close family member could decide that it’s in your best interest. Oftentimes, it is those who have an affinity for nature and the outdoors (or environmental activists) who pursue the green burial route. But after learning more about the process, it may also be for you! The following steps should be taken if you decide to pursue a natural burial: 

  1. Choose a funeral director: Choosing a funeral director is the first step of the process once you’ve decided on a natural burial. Because this technique is currently increasing in popularity, finding a certified provider and appropriate cemetery is easier than ever.

  2. Pick a casket: Your funeral director will help you choose your preferred casket. Natural caskets and urns are made from sustainable woods, cardboard, or wicker while shrouds are woven from organic, non-toxic fabrics like cotton, silk or linen. Another option is an Ecopod, which is a biodegradable kayak-shaped casket made from recycled newspapers.

  3. Find a cemetery: Lastly, you must decide on the location in which you want to be buried and choose your gravestone. Some cemeteries offer both traditional and natural burial options while other cemeteries reserve their grounds solely for green burials. (There are over 150 green cemeteries in the US and Canada and that number is continuing to grow.)

    You can also opt for a home burial if you or your family own land. Most states allow burials on private property, but be sure to check your own municipality’s zoning and permit requirements as every city varies.

  4. Decide on a headstone: Picking your headstone is also part of the green burial process and most people select elements that are inherently “natural” too. This means marking your grave with engraved stones, trees, flowers, or other native shrubbery.

Benefits of a Green Burial

Besides personal preference — like the desire to uphold the age-old adage “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” — there are a number of benefits associated with green burials: 

  • Conservation of natural resources: As previously mentioned, green caskets are made from renewable resources. Traditional caskets, on the other hand, are made from materials like steel and wood, which are not sustainably produced. 
  • Environmental preservation: For similar reasons, natural burials also help to preserve the environment. Not only does the manufacturing and transportation of commercial caskets require significant amounts of energy, thus resulting in increased carbon emissions, traditional caskets also take longer to break down and can release chemicals into the soil (that come from paint or veneer) in the process. In addition, many conventional cemeteries use harmful herbicides to maintain their grounds while natural cemeteries avoid this. Lastly, green burials avoid the embalming process, which eliminates the potential of formaldehyde seeping into the earth. 
  • Protection of industry workers: Formaldehyde, a common ingredient in traditional embalming fluid, is a known carcinogen that can pose health risks to those who are frequently exposed to the product. Green burials prohibit the embalming process thus reducing industry professionals’ exposure. (Note: there are now formaldehyde-free alternatives to conventional embalming fluids that are primarily made from essential oils.) 
  • Cost and simplicity: For some, the thought of having their body placed directly into the ground without extra embellishments sounds ideal. Furthermore, the cost of a natural burial is often less expensive compared to a traditional burial.  With no need for embalming or adorned caskets, green burials typically cost between $1,000 to $4,000. (For reference, traditional burials start at around $8,500.)

Is a Green Burial Right for You?

As concern for mankind’s impact on the environment increases, so has the desire for green burials. 

Perhaps you want to reduce your carbon footprint. It’s possible you’re just a nature lover committed to preserving the environment. Or maybe you find comfort in the idea of becoming one with the earth in your eternal resting place. Certain green cemeteries even use their burial fees to cover land protection, restoration and management of their grounds — this also appeals to some people. Whatever your reasoning, a green burial could be the perfect option for you. 

In addition, those who abide by religious laws (most commonly Jewish and Muslim tradition) may find that natural burials offer a great way to meet their religion’s requirements. 

Need more information or help ensuring your desire for a green burial is included in your Will? Reach out to Trust & Will today!