Greener Burial Choices

water burial

Urns are available for water burial of ashes. Such urns slowly sink to the bottom, where they degrade.

Green burials are a relatively “new” practice based on techniques used by some cultures for thousands of years. Green burial generally means that the body, which is not embalmed, is buried in an eco-friendly casket or shroud in a manner that allows it to return to the earth as quickly as possible. That is why green burials are also called natural burials or eco-burials.

Green Cemeteries

A green burial may take place in a conventional modern cemetery or in a green cemetery or natural burial ground that uses eco-friendly methods. In a green burial, graves are dug by hand and concrete vaults or grave liners are not used.

Greener Choices in a Conventional Cemetery

Even in a conventional cemetery you can still choose a greener burial. Use a green casket or a shroud. If possible, decline the use of a concrete vault or liner. (Vaults and liners are designed to prevent the ground from sinking in when the casket and body decompose. This makes it easier to maintain the manicured, level lawns we associate with modern memorial parks, but it wastes a lot of resources.) Many conventional cemeteries require either a vault or grave liner, but this practice may change if more people reject it. A greener option is a liner with no bottom, which allows the body or casket to rest in the earth. There are also conventional cemeteries that are beginning to allow vault-less burial anywhere in the cemetery. If this option is available, there are often additional charges to prepare the grave prior to burial and to maintain it after burial. These charges can equal or exceed the costs of a vault or liner.

Grave Marking

The practice of marking graves is an important part of remembering the dead and dealing with loss. The way in which you mark a grave can be a greener choice as well. Natural cemeteries often plant trees or shrubs in place of headstones, tablets and other common markers. Planting local flora on or near the grave creates a living memorial and helps create habitat for wildlife.

In a conventional cemetery, choose the minimum size of headstone allowed. Try to find a local monument builder who uses indigenous rather than imported stone, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of production and transportation.

Full Body Sea Burial

For centuries the burial of the deceased at sea has been common in many cultures. This method of final disposition is popular amongst those that have spent much of their lives at sea. Depending how this is carried out, it can be a greener form of burial. There are several companies that will conduct a full body burial at sea. Some of them have their own proprietary shrouds in which the un-embalmed body is placed before being laid to rest at sea.

Cremation

If you choose cremation, there are additional greener burial options such as:

Water burial – Cremated remains are allowed to sink into an ocean, lake or river in a biodegradable container designed to break down within hours or days.

Scattering – Cremated remains are dispersed on land or on a body of water. Many cemeteries have dedicated scattering grounds, which provides a convenient place for families to return to when they want to remember their departed.

Note: Water burial and scattering may be governed by federal and local laws. Please consult your funeral professional if you choose one of these options.