What is a Burial Urn?

As cremation continues to become more and more popular in the U.S., so are the number of people making plans to bury their ashes or bury ashes of a loved one with a burial urn. Burial urns are containers made from bamboo, wood, recycled plant materials, cardboard, paper, plastic, or metal that hold cremated ashes and are designed to be buried.

Biodegradable Burial Urns

burial urn

In addition to the increasing number of people choosing cremation over burial, there’s also a significant and growing number of people who are eco-conscious and want an environmentally-friendly urn. There are many biodegradable options available, including burial urns made from bamboo, wood, recycled plant materials, paper, cardboard and ceramic. These various options will biodegrade after being buried anywhere from a few days, to a few years. If this is something you’re interested in it’s important to do your research first to make sure what you’re ordering is truly biodegradable and eco-friendly.

Below we’ve highlighted a few of the more popular burial urns that are 100% biodegradable:

  • Bamboo Burial Urn 

Bamboo is extremely fast growing and abundant and it is also a very strong, sturdy and lightweight material. As such, it is one of the best eco-friendly building materials on the planet and is considered a sustainable and renewable resource. Furthermore, bamboo has a beautiful appearance, with a smooth texture and a showy surface of light and dark nodes and grains projecting from a backdrop of light brown or caramel colors. For these reasons, bamboo is a perfect material to construct an elegant and dignified burial urn. Surprisingly, there are very few burial urns on the market made from bamboo.

The Eco Burial Urn is a patent pending bamboo burial urn that is quickly growing in popularity. It’s made entirely from all natural materials - the urn itself is made from bamboo with a locking pin made from birch wood. The Eco Burial urn is a sleek cylindrical shape and can hold up to 220 cubic inches of ashes, which is a standard size to hold the ashes of a single person. Since it is made from bamboo, it biodegrades relatively fast once it is buried in the ground. Although it is called a burial urn, many families also choose to use this as a standard urn and not for burial due to its attractive look, as it will not break down if simply kept in the home. Therefore, Eco Burial can be used as an eco-friendly urn for burial or as a dignified urn to be kept for many years. 

There are also bamboo scattering urns called Eco Scattering that can be used to scatter ashes of a loved one. After scattering, families can choose to keep a portion of the ashes in the urn to keep in the home or to bury at a special place.  Also, they are made entirely from bamboo and will therefore biodegrade once they are placed in the ground and exposed to soil and moisture,

  • Burial Urn that Grows a Tree

The Living Urn’s patented tree memorial planting system includes a special biodegradable burial urn made from recycled plant materials and constructed using only water, heat and pressure and no glues, chemicals or binding agents. It is designed to hold as much or as little of one set of cremated ashes so families have the option to include all of a person’s ashes or just a small portion. Importantly, this special urn softens immediately once buried in the ground and biodegrades rapidly to allow the roots of the tree planted in combination with the urn to grow freely in all directions.   

The Living Urn offers over 50 tree options to plant with its bio urn, and these options are narrowed down by zip code to offer only trees suitable for each specific geographic area. Families can select their special tree or shrub for their living memorial and it is shipped fresh whenever the family is ready to plant. All of the trees and shrubs provided by The Living Urn are 1-4’ in height and are shipped in pots with healthy and robust root systems.

Many families will also choose to purchase The Living Urn bio urn and planting system only and visit their local nursery to pick out their own tree, shrub, or flowers to plant in combination with The Living Urn. You can plant any size tree with The Living Urn and the instructions provided explain how to plant The Living Urn with the tree purchased. Roses are a popular option to be grown from The Living Urn in a garden or a large pot.

    • Wood, Cardboard, or Paper Burial Urns 

    There are hundreds of urns available made from wood and a few others made from cardboard or paper. While these may either be meant to be kept in the home or be used for other purposes, such as scattering ashes, they can also be buried. With a quick online search you can find a variety of urn designs to find one that fits best. Wood urns are considered all natural as long as they don’t have a polyurethane or another similar finish. These types of finishes will dramatically slow down the rate of biodegradation and are not good for the environment. While paper is biodegradable, if it is processed paper like cardboard, it may not be very eco-friendly as the manufacturing process can be  energy intensive and involve chemicals that are not very good for the environment. Some paper urns may be fine and you can simply check with the supplier to better understand how they are made if that is important to you and your family. 

      Traditional Burial Urns

      For families who want a more traditional burial urn, there are a number of options available. These are mainly made from metal and come in a variety of colors and shapes. In addition, many people who want the urn to stay in-tact and not biodegrade once buried also place the urn in an urn vault. These are typically constructed of heavy plastic or concrete. Many cemeteries require urn vaults to be placed around urns that are buried on their property.

      Where to Bury Ashes?

      There are a wide range of options for where families can bury ashes of a loved one. Some families will bury their ashes in an urn garden at a cemetery or memorial park, or in a traditional burial plot at a cemetery. Others will bury ashes at a special place, such as a home or property or some other meaningful location (with permission, of course).

      • At Home – many families want to have their loved one’s ashes at home with them and bury them on their property - in the yard, in the garden, near or under a tree or another location of meaning. Sometimes families will even travel to a separate family property or a childhood home to place the ashes in the ground. When burying ashes, families have the option to place a special marker or plaque above the burial site that is made granite or another type of stone and is engraved with the information of the loved one that has passed and a special message. It is recommended to check local regulations in your area before burying a loved one’s ashes on your property.
      • At a Meaningful Place – many people want to be memorialized at a special place that has meaning to them and their family. For some it is the ocean or a beach, a favorite hiking trail, a park, family vacation spot, golf course, a town where they grew up and many more. This personal choice is different for everyone and, wherever you choose, it’s important to check local rules and get permission when needed.
      • Urn Garden – these tranquil gardens are typically found in a cemetery or memorial park. Some churches are also now providing urn gardens and allowing tree memorials on their property. Some urn gardens will include a series of small plots (similar to burial plots for caskets, but smaller) and others will consist of interesting landscapes including trees, greenery, rocks, fountains, and so on. The more elaborate urn gardens typically give families the option to bury ashes in or under a large rock, bench, fountain, or in or under other parts of the landscape.
      • Cemetery Burial Plot – while historically reserved for the burial of people in a casket and vault, many cemeteries are now permitting the burial of cremated ashes on burial plots. Given the size of a burial plot, one can accommodate the ashes of multiple people. This is a great option for families looking to be buried at the same place.
      • Natural Burial Park – in line with the trend of people being more environmentally-conscious, there are more and more burial parks allowing the natural burial of bodies (no casket or embalming fluid) and the ashes of loved ones in biodegradable urns or containers. With a quick internet search you can find out if there’s one near you and the various services they offer.

      Which Burial Urn is Right for Me?

      Burial urns come in all shapes and sizes and are made from a variety of materials. Biodegradable burial urns are becoming more and more popular, however, the choice is personal and must appeal to you and your family. When it comes to picking out an urn, there is no ‘right’ choice, just one that you prefer and feels right for you. With the rise in cremation, there are now more urns than ever to choose from.