A green burial is a natural means to care for a loved one’s body after they’ve passed with minimal environmental impact. Green burials are focused on conserving natural resources and using only non-toxic materials. This can include biodegradable urns, all-natural caskets, shrouds, and other materials and does not involve embalming fluid, traditional caskets, or vaults. The growing green burial movement is mainly being driven by the eco-conscious consumer and those who want to avoid negatively impacting the environment after they pass.
Why Green Burials?
According to a recent study published by the Funeral & Memorial Information Council, people interested in greener burial methods rose to 64 percent of adults forty and over, up from just 43 percent in 2010. There are many reasons for the increase in the popularity of green burials, including more people being educated on the environmental impact of embalming and burying a body in a traditional casket and/or vault, along with the many new biodegradable options available for people who have passed.
Issues with Embalming
A large percentage of people who are buried are embalmed prior to the burial to preserve the body for viewings or for religious reasons. Embalming is also performed for families who want to have a viewing of a loved one prior to a cremation, or for medical or scientific reasons.
While embalming is a great way to preserve a body, one if the main ingredients of embalming fluid is formaldehyde. Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have classified formaldehyde as a hazardous waste being a human carcinogen. In addition, a 2009 study by the National Cancer Institute concluded that funeral directors and embalmers experience a much higher rate of myeloid leukemia.
Another negative impact of embalming is that the fluid can leak into the groundwater. Three to five million gallons of embalming fluid is used in the funeral industry each year (and nearly a million gallons in the U.S. alone), with much of it at risk of contaminating nearby groundwater.
Issues with Caskets and Vaults
Many of the traditional caskets available today are made from wood. The U.S. alone consumes millions of trees in its casket production each year (as approximately 30 million board feet of hardwood is used annually!).
Vaults are typically made from metal or concrete. While this could be considered harmless by some, the manufacturing and transportation of large burial vaults consumes a significant amount of energy, which adds to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Issues with Cemeteries
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 109,000 cemeteries in the United States. Cemeteries take up large amounts of land, a finite and precious resource.
If the 76 million Americans who are expected to reach their life expectancy between 2024 and 2042 are buried in standard plots it would require an additional 130 square miles of cemetery space – equivalent to the size of Atlanta!
What Are My Green Burial Options?
With the increase in the popularity of green burials there are now many new eco-friendly burial options available with more being introduced each year. Below we’ve highlighted a few of the more popular ones:
A green burial option that continues to grow in popularity is The Living Urn’s biodegradable tree urn. This unique patented bio urn and planting system gives you the ability to grow a beautiful tree memorial from the unique urn holding a portion or all of your loved one’s cremated ashes. The Living Urn offers over fifty tree options, narrowed down by zip code for the ones that grow best in your area. Many families get permission to plant at a local, state or national park, at a local golf course, or plant on their own property. In addition, for every Living Urn planted, a second tree is planted to help with reforestation efforts – doubling the impact!
Buried in a Hemp Shroud, Biodegradable Casket, or Biodegradable Urn
Many people who choose green burial prefer to have their body or cremated ashes buried. This can be done in a shroud (typically made from help or other organic materials), a biodegradable casket (such as a wicker casket), or a biodegradable urn (including Eco Burial bamboo urns and others made from biodegradable materials). To be considered a green burial, a traditional casket and vault will not be used and there won’t be any embalming performed.
There are many places throughout the U.S. who allow green burials, with more being introduced every month. This can be at a memorial park dedicated to green burials, a local cemetery with a green burial section, or even at your home or property you own (however, we always recommend checking local rules and regulations beforehand).
Another green burial option that’s getting a lot of interest is a burial at sea or water burial. With this, you scatter your loved one’s ashes in the ocean or other body of water. With the increased popularity of this option, there are now biodegradable water urns available that give you the ability to perform a water burial with ease. This includes the Eco Water Urn, made from recycled plant materials. It floats like a buoy, then gracefully scatters the ashes out of the bottom of the urn and into the water. The Eco Water Urn comes packaged in an attractive bamboo case, which gives families the ability to securely transfer the ashes and water urn to the location where they plan to perform the water burial.
Another option for a water burial is the ice urn. This unique urn is made entirely from ice and floats on top of the water, then withing minutes gracefully scatters the ashes of a loved one. The patented ice urn is now available throughout the U.S. at various funeral homes.
One of the most popular options for families who choose cremation is to scatter some or all of the ashes. This can be done in the yard at home, in a park, at a favorite location, a vacation spot, golf course, etc. Prior to scattering, it is always best to check any local rules or regulations and get permission from the relevant group (if you plan to scatter on public land or land you don’t own).
Some families will simply use a container they find around the house to scatter, however, these can be a challenge and often times do not work as intended. Alternatively, there are new biodegradable scattering urns that are ‘green’ and provide families with a great way to scatter ashes. This includes Eco Scattering Urns, which are made from bamboo, a green and sustainable resource. These special scattering urns give families the ability to scatter with control and ease.