The idea of living a green life and being environmentally-conscious is influencing the choices people are making regarding the final state of their body after death. For those who strive to live an organic, healthy lifestyle and choose to leave the smallest carbon foot print possible, green funerals and burials represent a way to add meaning to their end of life choices, as well as being an ethical, philosophical and moral obligation.
According to the Green Burial Council (GBC), their vision is simple, they believe end-of-life rituals are meant to let us honor the dead, heal the living and invite in the divine. A burial is “green” only when it furthers legitimate environmental aims such as protecting worker health, reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving habitat. They believe the field of funeral service needs to embrace a new ethic for the era and death can and should connect to life.
As a society, we use the rituals of death as a final-rite of passage and to celebrate and honor a loved one’s life legacy. Memorial services and the way societies choose to honor their dead have evolved throughout history. However, most religions and cultures throughout the world have been practicing the art of green funerals and burials for centuries. Please consult your spiritual leaders for the rules and regulations regarding burial and cremation rights for your specific religious denomination.
A green burial skips the embalming process and the body is placed or wrapped in a bio-degradable material, then buried in a green cemetery, where graves are dug by hand and no vault liners or containers are permitted. Direct Burial is also an eco-friendly option and involves a burial without embalming and is usually done quickly and without a viewing. Embalming is the chemical process of preserving a body and it has become commonplace for funerals in American. However, unbeknownst to many, no state automatically requires embalming. Choosing to skip this process saves the consumer money and reduces the risk of unnecessary exposure to the carcinogenic chemicals involved in the embalming process. If embalming becomes necessary, due to time constraints and viewing, greener embalming methods are now available. They are formaldehyde-free and can adequately preserve a body for several weeks. Check with your local funeral home to determine if this option is available.
New England Burials at Sea, operated by Captain Brad White conducts eco-friendly sea burials in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard regulations, which means scattering ashes at least three miles offshore and dumping intact bodies at least 25 miles out. Another green option for burial at sea, is to mix cremated remains with eco-friendly concrete and create a honey comb shaped ball, that is then dropped off shore to create a living memorial reef.
If cremation is preferred, eco-friendly cremations are available. They require no harmful embalming chemicals and ash scattering has less impact on the environment than burial. However, due to the use of fossil fuels, the energy used to operate the equipment and toxins that can potentially be released due to mercury dental fillings, there can still be a negative impact on the environment. Some facilities are now required to use filtration devices to aid in reducing the toxins released. Bio-cremation is a relatively new, more eco-friendly alternative to the traditional cremation. It involves a process called alkaline hydrolysis, where the body is placed in a chamber and is subjected to water, heat, pressure and potassium hydroxide. In a few hours, all that remains are bones and the body is reduced to a liquid composed of amino acids, sugars and salts. Just like in traditional cremation, the bones are then pulverized to powder that can be scattered and the non-toxic liquid is disposed of in the earth or water.
There are a variety of options for disposal of cremated remains. Most cemeteries provide burial options, including burial space on top of a previously buried loved one, requiring less precious real estate. Above ground niches are also available and in some areas, special cemetery gardens are designated for ash scattering. For water burials, bio-degradable urns are available and help to reduce the environmental impact on aquatic life. Recyclable scattering tubes are available to personalize and families and friends are encouraged to decorate and write their special feelings and thought s on the tube as part of a meaningful ceremony. Some families choose to keep their loved one in their home or keep a permanent piece of them inside jewelry specifically designed to hold cremated remains.
Whether you choose to bury or cremate, there are a wide variety of eco-friendly funeral products available. Bio-degradable caskets made from sustainable, eco-friendly materials, shrouds and cremation urns made from salt, or sand and urns made of paper with wild flower seeds imbedded in the material…all produce a small carbon foot print on the environment. For more information on the items available and to purchase eco-friendly products, visit our Sympathy Gifts shop.
Plan for your green burial
The Green Burial Council has created a new tool to assist in the planning of a green burial. We also provide free assistance to help you let your families, attorney, and estate planners know your wishes.