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Green Funeral Guide

With growing concern about the environment and demand from the eco-conscious, a new trend is emerging in the death care industry. "Green funerals," or environmentally-friendly burials, forego the use of artificial preservation methods and materials that may be harmful to the environment. By employing minimalist caskets and grave markers, and utilizing natural habitats, these types of burials cost a fraction of their traditional counterparts, while at the same time promoting the earth and harmony with nature.

Though traditional funeral homes have become a mainstay in today’s society, many view them as being more wasteful than necessary Opponents cite the use of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde in embalming fluid as unnecessary and damaging to the environment. Additionally, the use of materials such as steel, concrete, copper, and bronze is not only in the tens of thousands of tons annually, but these elements can stay buried in the ground indefinitely, polluting the earth.

Each year, cemeteries across the US bury approximately:

  • 30 million board feet (70,000 m³) of hardwoods (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

*(Compiled from statistics by Casket and Funeral Association of America, Cremation Association of North America, Doric Inc., The Rainforest Action Network, and Mary Woodsen, Pre-Posthumous Society)

Instead of large, elaborate grave markers, green burials feature inconspicuous, natural markers. These often involve trees, flowers, and rocks found on or around the gravesite. Some opt for a small flat stone identifying the buried individual; most commonly, though, modern positioning methods such as GPS are used to identify where a person lies.

Green burials have been growing in popularity over the past decade and a half, particularly in the UK and certain other countries. The United States currently boasts only a handful of cemeteries that are purely "green," although a number of other have sectioned parts of their lots for eco-friendly burials. As demand continues to rise, however, more and more funeral providers are introducing green options. The number of lots across the country has been nearly doubling over the recent years, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Green Burials Overview:

  • Commonly known as green burials, eco-friendly burials, natural burials, or woodland burials.
  • Traditional funerals cost $6500 on average; green burials: $2300.
  • Exclude the use of embalming fluids, pesticides, herbicides, or irrigation.
  • Wooden caskets (sometimes cardboard, wicker, or bamboo) are used instead of metal coffins.
  • No concrete vaults are used.
  • Graves are usually hand-dug, and are shallower than traditional graves.
  • Graves are marked with plants, flowers, rocks, or other natural landmarks in the area, foregoing prominent markers.

For more information on green burial options, check out The Chic Ecologist's article on green burials and Eco Funerals.