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Eco or Green Burials
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Not in the ‘modern’ burial. 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 alone- 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- in the US burial and cemetery averages at least $10,000 (or more if site conditions require above ground burial) – 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 cultures require natural burial (for instance Jewish, Moslem, and many Native American traditions)- and I’ve heard Pagans say they also want this. When people realize embalming with formaldehyde just pickles bodies they often 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.”

Death Process

Coming soon

Green Burial Resources

Green Burial CouncilGreen Burial Guide (fill-in worksheet) and Going out Green: Four Ways to Ensure an Eco-Friendly Burial

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

Funeral Customs Index (Funeralwise.com)

Natural Burials: Questions & Burial Options, Burial Planning.com

Conservation Burial Alliance, information on full body earth burial in conservation burial cemeteries.

The Order of the Good Death, with information on the Dealth Positive Movement, preparing for death, and eco-friendly options.

Finding Green Cemeteries & Products

Canada & United States
Green Burial Council and their  interactive cemeteries, products, and funeral homes maps for the US & Canada.
New Hampshire, US Funeral Resources has a Green Cemeteries in the US and Canada list.
Natural Burial Company (supplies products) –  funeral and burial services map of the US & Canada.
GBC certified Product Providers (caskets, shrouds, urns, non-formaldehyde embalming chemicals)

United States
US Cemeteries Online – Green Burial Directory with a map and list of facilities,  State Funeral Guides, and Understanding the FTC’s Funeral Rule.
A Greener Funeral.org – list of US green funeral and burial providers

Canada
Green Burial Society of Canada and list of their approved providers.

 

Natural Burial Gimmicks

Bios Urns

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 up to 5.8 pounds of cremation ashes (or cremains) in the bottom portion of the cup, a tree seed of your choice on the top, and bury the urn 1-2″ from the ground surface. (Note cremains range from 4-8 pounds, so you may have ashes left over.)

Cremains have a high pH and include constituents that hurt plants, but their theory is that for at least the first 3 months the seeds will be separated from the ashes, and the ashes will end up mixed with the soil after that time. Not so, depending on your soil, climate, and time of year. I’ve gardened and planted trees for over 50 years, and it’s not a recipe for the successful growth of a tree in my opinion. So this urn is basically a $140 peat pot for ashes that may not grow a tree.

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 very deep hole, add soil back in the hole, and plant the tree well above the loose soil above the cremains.

Infinity Burial Suit

Infinity Burial Suit– A (muslin?) suit impregnated with fungal spores that is dressed on the body before burial. The suit costs $1500. (With funeral home and cemetery fees on top of that.) Available since 2016, in November 2021 their website states they know 1 man has used the suit. (FYI- the soil and our bodies have plenty of native fungal spores already.)

If this company really wanted to promote using more fungal spores than are naturally available they should come up with a solution that could be applied to a shroud (a ketchup type squirt bottle would make the pattern they use on the suit).

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

Capsula Mundi

Capsula Mundi– In development by graphic and materials designers since 2003, this is a large biodegradable, egg shaped enclosure that the whole body is placed into before burial (somehow). 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. As of November 2021 the whole body Capsula Mundi is still not available for purchase, and their small capsules for cremated remains are $330. (At least the bottom of the capsule is planted down 28″, and not near the surface.)

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

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
November 2021 – added new links