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.)
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.”