What is Green Burial?
Green burial – caring for the dead without the use of toxins and materials that are not biodegradable – has been receiving much attention lately, though it’s hardly a new phenomenon. Returning to the earth in little more than a shroud is what most of humanity has done for thousands of years until the advent of the modern “deathcare” industry. In a typical green cemetery, burial density is normally one-tenth of that of conventional cemetery. And because embalming, metal caskets, vaults and conventional markers are prohibited, green burial can also offer cost savings. Unfortunately, it also has much potential as a marketing ploy.
Do I Need a “Green Cemetery” to Have a Green Burial?
Not necessarily. There are several steps you can take to be “greener,” even in a conventional cemetery:
- If you have your own rural land, check your local zoning laws for any rules on home burial. It’s allowed in most states
- Forego embalming. It’s never routinely required by law for funerals, and we’ve never heard of any cemetery requiring it for burial
- Select a wood casket or a cardboard box or a shroud for burial. There are no laws requiring particular types of caskets. You might encounter resistance from the funeral director or cemetery, but stand your ground.
- If you can’t find a cemetery that will let you skip the vault, pick a concrete grave box that has an open bottom to let the body come in contact with the earth. Or, invert a concrete grave liner and use the lid for something else. Folks in Vermont and New York may refuse to use a vault on religious grounds, though there may be an additional charge for special maintenance of the grave.
The Green Burial Council (GBC) is a new nonprofit organization founded to encourage sustainable end-of-life rituals, and in some instances, to use the burial process to accomplish land conservation. The Center has developed the first certifiable standards for greener good-byes. One set is for Natural Burial Grounds, which are cemeteries required to follow ethical and ecologically sound practices. And another is for Conservation Burial Grounds, which adhere to these same practices, but in addition, involve an established conservation partner and further a legitimate conservation purpose. The Council will also be listing on its site conventional cemeteries and funeral service providers around the country willing to accommodate green burial.