6 Options for an Eco-Friendly Funeral August 25, 2021

sustainable funeral

6 Options for an Eco-Friendly, Sustainable Funeral

The idea of a sustainable funeral or a green or ecologically-friendly burial might sound new, but in reality it is not new at all.

What is an Eco-Friendly or Green Burial?

According to the Green Burial Council, a sustainable funeral and eco-friendly (or green) burial hinges on the goal of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact. Primary concerns include conserving natural resources, reducing carbon emissions, protecting worker heath, and preserving or restoring natural habitats.

Specifically, a green or eco-friendly burial means that the deceased’s body is neither cremated nor embalmed. Rather, it is placed in biodegradable material and buried without a concrete burial vault. The area around the burial site is left to return to nature. The goal with such a service is that the body decomposes and returns to the soil.

The History of Green Burials 

Prior to the mid-19th century, almost all burials were “green.” Today, many religious traditions stipulate the same circumstances; for example, many Jewish and Muslim burials forgo cremation and embalming.

As concerns for the environment have grown, reasons other than faith have contributed to an increasing rise in sustainable funerals and eco-friendly burials, including the wish to conserve natural resources, avoiding hazardous chemicals, and a wish for a simple, more modest ceremony than families might have preferred in previous generations.

The ecological toll that traditional funerals and burials place on our climate is certainly something we should all be aware of. Each year in the US, cemeteries bury more than 30 million board feet of hardwood and 90,000 tons of steel and copper. Additionally, traditional embalming material includes formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.

While opting for a sustainable funeral and a green burial may or may not be an option for you, depending on where you live and what your faith dictates, learning more about environmentally friendly funerals and burials can help you understand your options.

Be Aware of Local and State Regulations

Knowing the laws that pertain to how you memorialize and bury a loved one’s remains can be difficult to find and confusing to understand, especially if you’re also dealing with the recent death of a loved one. In these circumstances, we always recommend working with a local, trusted funeral home. At Bateman-Allen, for instance, we can help you understand why, for example, a viewing cannot happen without the body first being embalmed (which would make a green or eco-friendly burial unattainable).

Even if a completely sustainable funeral or green burial cannot be offered for whatever reasons, the best funeral directors will listen to your wishes and work diligently to offer a solution as close to your desired goals as possible.

6 Options for an Eco-Friendly Burial

Go Completely Green

In order for a funeral and burial to be truly sustainable and eco-friendly, a deceased body should be clothed or wrapped with natural fabrics and without jewelry or other adornments (though herbs and other natural materials are fine). The body cannot be embalmed. The body should then either be placed in a grave dug by hand, either by loved ones or cemetery workers. If desired, the body can be placed in a casket first, but that casket must be made only of a biodegradable material—a plain wooden box with no glue or metal. Cardboard or wicker are other options.

The goal is that as the human body starts to decompose, there is nothing to impede its return to the soil.

One disadvantage to this option is that by not embalming the body, you cannot have a viewing. Another disadvantage is that you must work with a cemetery and, ideally, a funeral home that specializes in green burial. You can find resources for both at the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Opt for a Hybrid Service

If your goal is to be as environmentally conscious as possible, but you either cannot or do not want to strictly follow the parameters of a sustainable funeral and green burial, you could choose a blend of services that fit your needs.

For example, if you want to have a viewing and therefore must opt for embalming, you could choose an environmentally friendly casket or urn.

Traditional caskets are primarily made of metal. Metal is not biodegradable and is therefore harmful to the environment. Opting for a wood casket can be a more environmentally friendly option.

While cremation eliminates the need for a casket, it has environmental tolls of its own. The most pressing concern is the amount of energy it requires: it’s estimated that one cremation produces an average of 534.6 ponds of carbon dioxide.

While it may not be possible to change that reality, you can opt for environmentally sustainable urns or containers of you choose to have your loved one cremated. Urns made of paper are one option; another is to choose a container that will decompose in water, like this one.

Give Back in Other Ways

If having a sustainable funeral or an eco-friendly burial isn’t an option for whatever reason but you still feel strongly about being environmentally conscious, there are ways you can give back.

You might consider sponsoring or planting a community garden in your loved one’s name, for example. Or you could start a tradition of clearing litter from the sides of highways or public areas every year as a way of memorializing your loved one.

You could even do something on a daily basis that would make a positive impact on the environment, like start a carpool with coworkers or create a recycling center at your office building.

Consider a Private Burial

It’s imperative to ensure that you are in compliance with state and local ordinances, but if your area allows it, you could consider burying your loved one on your own private property. This can be an intimate and practical solution if you prefer a simple burial, and is likely more suitable if you live in a rural, rather than a suburban or urban area. Remember that federal, state, and local laws will still require that you follow all ordinances and complete all required paperwork.

Get Experimental

There are less traditional but eco-friendly sustainable funeral and burial ideas, if you are open to thinking outside the box. New ideas such as the mushroom burial suit, aquamation, and sky burial are options to consider if they are in line with your personal and religious beliefs. Each of these retains the core goal of an eco-friendly burial, which is to allow the body to return to the earth, but some have additional benefits.

One of those is the body farm at Freeman Ranch at Texas State University. The body farm was an idea of anthropologist William Bass, who wanted to study how bodies decompose naturally. To do so, he established a body farm, first with donated cadavers, where forensic anthropologists studied bodies in different stages of decomposition. Over time, this has become a boon of information for scientists and law enforcement alike.

Not every funeral home can help you plan a sustainable funeral or an eco-friendly or green burial. Resources are available, though, that can help you find the closest funeral homes and cemeteries in your area should you opt for a green funeral.

At Bateman-Allen Funeral Home, we want the services for your loved one to be what you want. We’re here to help with that, if we can. Reach out if we can answer any questions.