The Complete Guide to Green Burials

Green burials are growing in popularity across North America, and for good reason. This type of memorial is significantly more eco-friendly, and for some, strengthens their bond to the natural world. Here are some key things you need to know about what a natural green burial is and what to expect. 

What Is a Natural (Green) Burial or Cremation?

A green burial involves a specific manner of burying –or otherwise laying to rest– a loved one that reduces the environmental impact of a traditional funeral ceremony. The green funeral method is focused primarily on the conservation of natural resources and the use of environmentally friendly materials in the ceremonial materials, including the casket, shrouds, and urns. 

Alternatively, green cremation is a substitute for cremation services using flames. This method instead uses a process called alkaline hydrolysis, and it produces the same results, reducing human remains to ashes.

What Is a Conservation Burial?

A conservation burial ground is typically partnered with a conservation organization and has developed an approach that not only reduces environmental harm but also actively restores it. Conservation burial plots implement environmental restoration management plans that adhere to the principles of the scientific field of study, known as restoration ecology, in an agreement called a “conservation easement.”

Green Burial Options 

Now that you know what a green funeral is, what are your options? There are currently more than 90 registered green burial cemeteries and memorial sites in the United States. Some of them are exclusively green burials, while others are hybrid sites where both green and traditional burials and memorials take place. (Green burial sites are also called “eco cemeteries,” so keep that in mind when searching for your ideal location.)

Also, these sites only allow biodegradable materials, such as linen, bamboo, and wood, and embalming is not allowed. Natural markers are required as opposed to traditional ornate gravestones: you can mark your loved ones grave with a stone, and even a shrub or tree in some areas. 

Reasons to Choose a Green Burial

The reasons behind choosing a natural burial, also called an eco burial, are based on the environmental, biological, and climate sciences, and personal values. If you’re organizing a ceremony for a loved one or planning ahead for yourself, these are a few reasons to choose green burial.

The Environmental Impact of Conventional Burials 

Green burials are significantly better for the environment and wildlife that may be present near a burial site. This is because the materials and practices used in a traditional funeral ceremony introduce toxins into the environment through the chemicals used in the treatment of the casket to the carbon emissions from the transport of the remains. 

Commercially produced caskets take an excessive amount of time to break down in the soil. Not only that but the chemicals used to treat the casket, like paint and veneer, will leach into the soil and degrade the quality of the environment for surrounding vegetation. Also, because cemeteries are expansive lawns, there is a tremendous loss of natural habitat due to the amount of vegetation that must be cleared to construct these institutions. 

How Natural Burials Can Make a Difference to the Environment

In green burials, caskets, urns, shrouds, and any other ceremonial materials or equipment are ensured to be sustainably sourced, and will not introduce pollutants and toxins into the environment. 

The natural, green burial method is also highly concerned with the health of industry workers. The embalming fluid required to traditionally preserve a body is partially composed of formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen. Formaldehyde has been found to pose serious health risks to those who have frequent exposure to the chemical. With green burial body preparation, workers use formaldehyde-free alternatives that have been approved by the Green Burial Council to protect the health of the worker. 

Are Natural Burials Legal?

Burial laws change according to the state so planning the location of the ceremony needs to be done far ahead of time and in consideration of the laws of the intended site. There are no state laws against natural burials, however, there are green burial laws to adhere to (considering conservation easements, for example), and you will need to look into whether or not embalming is a required part of the traditional burial process in your state. 

In California, for example, embalming is not required, but in Connecticut embalming is required for individuals who died of a contagious disease. 

Tips on Determining Burial Policies in Your Area

If you are planning a natural green burial, one of the first things you need to determine is where the ceremony will be taking place. Based on your own or your loved one’s personal values, will the ceremony be a green burial or a conservation burial? Will it take place at a green or conservation burial site? If not, will you be carrying out the ceremony at home?

All of these matters will factor into the specific laws you will need to research for your burial. State laws generally have authority over the requirements of embalming and general areas where burials can take place (official cemetery vs. at home). You will need to look into local laws when deciding to do a home burial for further details. These will be available through city or county ordinances. 

How Much Does a Green Burial Cost?

Depending on what type of ceremony you want to have, the average price of a green burial can fall anywhere between $200-$4000. The natural burial cost varies based on whether you choose to bury the body or choose green cremation options, if you include a stone marker, and more. Of course, the specific green cemetery in which you decide to lay your loved one to rest will significantly influence the price as well. 

Where Can I Find Natural Burial Grounds? 

Natural funeral sites are growing in popularity across the United States. At present, 34 out of the 50 states offer sites either exclusively for green burials or as hybrid sites. Hybrid sites are places where both green and traditional burials are allowed. 

Below is a partial list of states and specific cities where green burials are allowed. 

State Cities Green Hybrid
California Mill Valley; Los Angeles; Joshua Tree; Sebastopol; Sacramento; Placerville
Colorado Crestone
Hawaii Wailuku
Michigan Eagle Harbor; Oak Park; Milan; Wyandotte; Traverse City; Grandville; Waterford
New York Henrietta; Fultonville; Newfield; Rochester; Schenectady; Sleepy Hollow; Saratoga Springs; Rhinebeck; Pittsford
Oregon Estacada; Portland; Eugene; Hillsboro
Texas La Vernia; Cedar Creek; Huntsville; Georgetown
Washington Klickitat; Ferndale; Goldendale; Snohomish
Wisconsin Barneveld; Milwaukee; Verona; Waukesha

For a complete, in-depth list with contact information of the burial sites, click here

How to Begin Planning a Green Funeral

The process of planning a funeral, whether planning ahead for yourself or for a loved one, is difficult and highly emotional. Give yourself as much planning time as you are able to in case you need to take a step back and recollect yourself. 

You must be sure of the state and city in which the burial is taking place due to the specific requirements and standards of a green burial. This will determine the process and materials you will need. Remember that the average cost of a green burial will vary widely according to location, so have your site planned out in advance to raise the necessary funds. 

After all of this is set, you can choose what type of ceremony you would like, whether a burial or cremation and then you can move on to specifics like the grave marker.

More Resources for Planning an Eco-Friendly Funeral 

When you have made the decision to move forward with a green burial, make sure you know all the environmental benefits, what you may need, and what to expect from the ceremony by referring to the Green Burial Council.

Follow Perfect Memorials’ Funeral Planning Guide to get information on everything you need to know and do ahead of this fateful day.

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