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Eco or Green Burials
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Not in the ‘modern’ burial. Since the Civil War in the United States, embalming has nearly replaced other methods. Now there is a movement to return to more natural burials.
Cemetary

Grave sites of some family members in Keller, Texas.

Each year tons of resources are wasted in modern US burials- including wood, plastics, chemicals, cement (for vaults and  masoleums), and fuel. This also includes the practice of modern cremation, which emits toxic chemicals from embalming, amalgam dental fillings, and combustion into the air. (There are some non-formaldehyde embalming fluids approved for use, but other impacts with cremation would still be felt.)

Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately (per Wikipedia):

  • 30 million board feet (70,000 m3) of hardwood caskets
  • 90,272 tons of steel caskets
  • 14,000 tons of steel vaults
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze caskets
  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete vaults
  • 827,060 US gallons (3,130 m3) of embalming fluid (usually includes formaldehyde)

Besides massive use of these materials, ‘traditional burial’ also includes additional impacts from landscaping and long term upkeep of traditional cemeteries, with their high herbicide and pesticide use (and resulting water pollution). Land used for cemeteries is additionally lost to other uses, and often comes into conflict with neighbors over time.

Conventional burial is costly on a personal level- burial costs about $7,000– and to society as a whole. Green burial uses sustainable, biodegradable materials for caskets or shrouds, and no embalming. Land used in burial is usually kept in trust as nature area or open space. This can help reverse loss of habitat from development, and provide a beautiful and natural setting for our dead.

Many groups require natural burial (Jewish, and many Native American traditions)- and I’ve heard Pagans say they also want this. Most people when they realize embalming with formaldehyde just pickles bodies, come to seek out other options.

From a spiritual perspective, I feel we owe a more thoughtful and beneficial way to inter our new ancestors. There are many natural burial organizations now, and a move towards ‘deathcare’- a realization that how we bury and honor our dead is important for a healthy life.

The independent and non-profit Green Burial Council’s vision statement clearly states the aims of the natural or green burial movement-

“We believe end-of-life rituals are meant to let us honor the dead, heal the living and invite in the divine.
We believe burial is “green” only when it furthers legitimate environmental aims such as protecting worker health, reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving habitat.
We believe the field of funeral service needs to embrace a new ethic for new era.
We believe death can and should connect to life.”

Natural Burial Gimmicks

Bios Urns – Looks like a very large size degradable drink cup with starter medium (peat and vermiculite) for the seed of a tree on the top section.  You put cremains (up to 4.8 pounds) in the bottom portion of the cup, and bury the urn. So it’s basically a $145 peat pot for ashes.

Alternative– go to the local nursery and get a tree/plant appropriate for your area, put the ashes in a paper bag in the bottom of a hole, and plant the tree.


Infinity Burial Suit– A (muslin?) suit impregnated with fungal spores that is dressed on the body before burial. No one has been reported being buried in it yet- understandable with it being so unfashionable and costing $1500. (FYI- soil has plenty of native fungal spores already.)

Alternative– wrap the body in a simple cloth shroud for burial.


Capsula Mundi– Currently being developed by graphic and materials designers, this is a large biodegradable, egg shaped enclosure that the body is placed into before burial. Then a tree is planted on top off the body. This is an attempt to provide natural burials in Italy (which currently are not allowed), but this is generally not a problem here in North America. A beautiful design that serves very little purpose where you can already have a natural burial.

Alternative– a wicker basket, simple wood box, or cloth shroud.

Green Cemeteries

Green Burial Council has an approved provider, cemetery, and products search page.

New Hampshire Funeral Resources has a Green Cemeteries in the US and Canada PDF document.

A Greener Funeral.org – list of green funeral and burial providers

The Natural End map/list of facilities.

Providers of alternative funeral and burial services are losted on this Natural End map provided by the Natural Burial Company

Resources

GBC green funeral burial planner (with information on letting your wishes be known to your family, etc.) and a green burial guide here.

National Funeral Director’s Association FAQ about green funeral services.

Funeral Customs Index (Funeralwise.com)

Publication Info

This was first posted on April 11, 2010. After the original was lost during a subsequent website migration, it was re-posted with this updated version on August 21, 2014.
 
Revisions:
September 8, 2016- added gimmicks section

About the Author

Retired from an environmental protection career in California, and letting my forested land in the Southeast heal itself, I traveled throughout North America for 4 years. As an OBOD Druid, I enjoy building connections - keeping seasonal festivals (the Wheel of the Year), honoring places and spirits, connecting with plants (using the Ogham), and visiting with other Druids.

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