Green burials have become increasingly popular in recent years. Founded on the belief that death care practices shouldn’t be harmful to the environment, green, or natural burials aim to leave minimal environmental impacts. In fact, many people who consider green burials take into consideration processes of burial that conserve resources, protect workers from potentially harmful chemicals, and reduce carbon emissions so that they can contribute to the restoration and preservation of natural habitats.
Numerous routes can be taking when approaching green burial, but most have a few common factors. For example, burials are typically considered green if harmful chemicals are not used in embalming, if the coffin is not covered by concrete, and if non-toxic biodegradable materials are used for burial. In addition, many who choose green burials forgo headstones or grave markers and choose to mark the grave with trees or plants.
Is Cremation Considered Green? Although the cremation process reduces land use, the practice is not considered green because cremation can potentially emit harmful substances, such as mercury, into the atmosphere. In addition, cremation burns fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource and some argue that cremation impedes the body’s natural decomposition, preventing the natural ecosystem from benefiting it.
The chemical process known as alkaline hydrolysis, which dissolves soft tissues leaving bone fragments and metals behind, produces similar remains as cremation and is considered to be more environmentally friendly. However, the option is not widely available and is costly compared to cremation.
How Do I Ensure My Burial Is Environmentally Friendly? Like the everyday choices we make regarding our impact on the environment (recycling, composting, carpooling, etc) green burial presents may ways that end-of-life choices can contribute to the preservation of our environment. Green burial options range from preserving cremated remains in Eco-friendly urns, to service providers that only use natural materials (such as pine and wicker) to produce caskets. At first, the environmentally-friendly options may seem limitless but please consider the following points when planning and implementing a minimally invasive burial:
No Toxic Chemicals – First, body preservation should not include any toxic or harmful embalming chemicals. Instead, refrigeration, dry ice, or Eco-friendly embalming fluid should be considered. If planning ahead, be sure that your funeral will be held in a relatively short period of time, as refrigeration can be expensive.
Biodegradable Burial Materials – Second, coffins, caskets and shrouds should be made of biodegradable substances like bamboo, wicker, silk, hemp or felt should be used. Wood that is sustainably harvested is also a good option.
Natural Grave Markers – There may not be a green cemetery or natural burial ground in your area, so please consider placing a biodegradable coffin in contact with the earth. This allows the coffin to degrade naturally, whilst preserving the cemetery’s landscape.
Where Can I Find More Information? For more information regarding green burial, be sure to refer to The Natural Death Centre which is the most comprehensive resource in the UK on matters of green burial.