What is a green burial and why should I choose one?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

With numerous environmental impacts associated with both traditional burials and cremations, people are seeking other funeral options. Although still a fairly small segment of the market, green burials are becoming more and more popular. According to a survey undertaken (pardon the pun) by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), over 70% of cemeteries have had an increased demand for green burials. Here, we take a look at what a green burial involves and some of the reasons why you, or a loved one, may choose one.

So, what is a green burial?

Although options vary, a green burial typically omits the chemically intensive embalming process and concrete vault. The burial container will also be different from a traditional burial – rather than being made from wood, they are made from other biodegradable materials such as bamboo or cardboard. The final resting place after a green burial is also in a more natural setting – unlike the perfectly mowed local cemetery. Green burial sites will vary from place-to-place, but they typically include areas such as a woodland or wildflower meadows.

The way we bury our loved ones has changed over the years, becoming more elaborate as time has gone by. A green, or natural, burial in many ways is returning to the simpler times. In short, all the elaborate trimmings of modern traditional burials have been removed.    

What are the benefits of a green burial?

The biggest benefit of green burials is the avoidance of the significant environmental impacts of other funeral types such as cremation and traditional burial. They also tend to be less expensive, minimizing the costs for family.

No chemicals are involved in a green burial.

Embalming is avoided in a green burial. This is a process whereby a body is preserved temporarily. Although not a legal requirement, the practice is often used by those who what to have a public viewing. During embalming, the body is drained and a chemical mixture (including formaldehyde) is injected. When a body is buried, the chemicals used for embalming will, in time, leach into the soil. The full impact of this is not fully known. However, what is certain is that the chemicals are not meant to be there! A green burial does not involve embalming, so there is no introduction of chemicals into the soil.

Traditional cemeteries are also moved and maintained to perfection. This can involve a number of different chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, to help the area to look at its ‘best’. These bring several well-documented environmental issues such as polluting local waterways and loss of soil quality. Green burials, to the contrary, are in natural spaces with minimal maintenance.

Minimal resources are used during green burials

A traditional burial also involves the use of a lot of resources – from the casket wood to the concrete surround. In the U.S. it is estimated that every single year we use approximately 30 million board feet of wood, over 100,000 tons of steel and 1.64 million tons of concrete in burying our dead! Literally, millions of houses could be built with these materials.   Gravestones are also prohibited. Graves in a green burial are also marked by a simple, natural memorials such as a plant or tree. It really is as natural a process as possible, with no unnecessary add-ons.

Reduced carbon footprint

As well as the use of resources, a hefty carbon footprint will be left by the manufacturing and transportation of the materials involved. This can be minimized significantly by using less resources. For example, cement production – an ingredient of concrete – contributes significantly to to the emissions of greenhouse gases. By avoiding concrete, green burials do not add to these emissions.

Saves the planet – and saves money!

In addition to the environmental benefits, green burials also tend to be cheaper than a traditional burial too. Lots of the typical expenses, such as a wooden casket, are avoided – a simple shroud can even be chosen.

The bottom line

As more people take steps to live an eco-friendly life, it makes sense that more people are also seeking more sustainable after-death care.  Green, or natural, burials are one of the most environmentally friendly funeral options available. Avoiding chemicals and limiting the use of resources, it really is a natural and back-to-basics funeral. A green burial also tends to be less expensive due to the vast reduction of extras such as gravestones. As with a lot of environmental practices, you will be helping save the planet whilst also saving your family money. Here we have only covered the basics. For more information, check out what the experts at the Green Burial Council have to say.