Dying Green: Have You Considered A Natural Burial?

Planning ahead for your own funeral can be daunting. It is not exactly a subject many people want to talk about.

A traditional American funeral consists of an embalming process, a coffin, flowers, etc. Even more resources go into the planning and execution of a funeral. Then there is the less costly conventional route of cremation. Both are socially accepted, neither is environmentally friendly. 

In the United States, 30 million board feet of wood, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, and 90,000 tons of steel are used every year for conventional burials, and cremation alone releases 250,000 tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of burning nearly 30 million gallons of gasoline.

Many people are switching over to what’s called a green or natural burial in order to minimize their environmental footprint on the planet after they pass away. 

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, approximately 54% of Americans are considering green burial and 72% of cemeteries are reporting increasing requests for green burials

So, what is a natural burial, you might ask? While there are different ways of carrying out a green burial, the idea is to care for a dead body in a manner which will have a minimal impact on the environment. According to the Green Burial Council, a natural burial ensures steps for minimizing negative environmental effects by forgoing embalming, skipping concrete vaults, rethinking burial containers and maintaining and protecting natural habitats. 

The law does not require a casket. So, you can completely skip the casket and potentially the embalming process if you so desire. 

There are an increasing variety of choices that allow you to reduce the impact on the environment when you pass away.

Cremation vs Burial:

Certified Green Burial cemeteries will carry out a burial process for you with minimal environmental harm.  Each cemetery sets their own policy, but all certified cemeteries use non-toxic and biodegradable materials, such as caskets, shrouds, and urns, and they do not inject any embalming fluids into the body of the deceased.

You can also upgrade your natural burial to a conservation burial, which dedicates the burial fees towards land conservation, management, and protection. So not only will your body be buried in a non-toxic manner, but the land around it will be protected as an ultimate legacy for future generations.

If you choose cremation, there are some interesting options for using your ashes. Consider companies that will convert your ashes into plantable soil (Let Your Love Grow) or create an underwater habitat for marine life by converting your ashes into a reef(Eternal reefs).

Composting vs Mushrooms:

In May 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize “natural organic reduction, an accelerated conversion of human remains into organic soil. The law will go into effect in 2020. 

The process takes about 4-7 weeks and produces approximately a cubic yard of compost. The only company working in this area so far, Recompose, will put the body in a vessel filled with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. After decomposing, the contents of the vessel are given back to the family of the deceased or used by environmental groups to nourish the land around them. Ultimately, the process uses an eighth of the energy used for cremation and saves one metric ton of carbon dioxide for every individual that partakes in the process of human composting. Therefore, soon enough, you could also participate in the process of human composting and the fertile soil you produce can be either used by your family or given to an environmental group for conservation.

As technology evolves, entrepreneurs and advocates of green burial are researching new ways to carry out the ritual of decomposition in a natural way. For example, the Infinity Burial Suit consists of mushroom mycelium that will not only decompose your body but also eat up toxins that we carry within us. Watch the documentary of Dennis White, who adopted the burial suit for his funeral here. They also have burial suits for your pets. Although this is a pricey option, they do claim that all the residual toxic chemicals in your body are eaten up by the spores rather than entering the earth.

After reading this article, if you feel inspired to start your own natural cemetery (yes, you can) or want to participate in a natural burial for yourself or a loved one but have questions like, check out the additional resources below. 

Additional resources:
Green Burial Council
Order of the Good Death 

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3 Replies to "Dying Green: Have You Considered A Natural Burial?"

  • Warren Aney
    October 16, 2019 (3:59 am)

    My wife Joyce passed away several months ago and I was able to arrange a natural burial at Willamette National Cemetery by Riverview Abbey Funeral Home (I did have to buy a bamboo casket). I was able to pre-purchase from them a similar burial for myself on the same gravesite.

    • Estelle Goodmon
      April 16, 2020 (9:31 pm)

      Warren, sorry to hear about your wife passing away, but thank you for your article on your natural burriel for Joyce
      as I just learned about different types of burriel from a TV show called ‘Ask a mortician’ which is very interesting.

  • William H. Brault
    October 24, 2019 (3:27 am)

    I understand that Aqua Cremation is a more environmental way of being cremated.