Green funerals are a hot topic right now, but what does it actually mean to have a green funeral or natural burial? Broadly speaking, having a green funeral (or “farewelling”) means that throughout the process, environmentally-friendly practices will be prioritized.
While there are funeral providers that focus exclusively on eco-friendly funerals, most funeral homes can assist you with a natural burial if you ask.
There are varying levels of “green” when it comes to funerals. Here’s a primer to help you understand your options.
“Blended” Green Burial
This is a new term that describes changing attitudes around burial practices from past generations to now, when folks may want to lighten their environmental impact. Say, for example, you want a completely green burial, but family members with whom you wish to be buried were embalmed and are at rest in metal caskets in a traditional cemetery. You can still be green. You may choose to have a biodegradable casket placed in your family plot, and that will still be a good thing for the planet! Just make sure to follow all regulations—your local provider will help you.
Completely Green/Natural Burial
If you want a truly natural burial, you’ll likely want to work with a professional who can guide you through what is legal in your area. For example, some states will allow you to have a viewing and funeral service in a private home, while others require you to use a licensed funeral home.
Preparation for Natural Burial
For a natural burial, the use of embalming fluids and other chemicals is not permitted, so it may be best to seek help from a pro for keeping the body cool and protected if you’ll want to arrange a visitation on short notice.
Most people think that embalming is required to host a visitation. That’s not necessarily true, but not embalming will shorten the time window for a visitation because natural processes begin as soon as someone dies, and those cause rapid changes that may make a viewing unappealing.
Since the idea is to return naturally to the earth, even clothing must be thoughtfully chosen. Biodegradable garments made from untreated natural fibers, such as cotton, linen or wool are perfect, but remember to avoid synthetic features such as elastic, plastic buttons or metal zippers. If you need help with natural clothing, your green funeral home will likely have a selection of burial gowns or shrouds for purchase. These will be made from materials such as bamboo, cotton, hemp or wool. With the growing popularity of green burials, there are more and more options for well-designed, eco-friendly garments.
Burial Shroud or Natural Casket?
Depending on your local laws and your own preferences, it may be possible to bury your loved one directly in a shroud. Alternatively, you might choose to purchase a natural casket. In that case, as with clothing, everything must be biodegradable. Most traditional caskets are not considered green, so you’ll likely want to buy a special casket fashioned from sustainable and renewable sources. Here’s that word biodegradable again, meaning materials will not release toxins into the earth as they decompose.
Green caskets are often made from wicker, seagrass, bamboo, heavy cardboard or pine. It won’t contain metal or other synthetic elements, and can’t be painted with toxic paint or veneer.
Personalizing a Casket: All Natural Can Still Be Stylish
Going green doesn’t mean you can’t make it personal and beautiful. Celebrate your loved one by laying fresh flowers, greenery or fallen leaves atop the casket or weaving them into the casket if the material permits (avoid plastic wrap, tape and rubber bands, etc.). Or get creative and decorate the outside with quotes, patterns or messages using environmentally-friendly paints or pens.
American Green Cemeteries and Natural Burial Sites
There are nearly 100 green burial sites in America. Some are sectioned-off areas of traditional cemeteries, while others are completely natural. The latter tend to be woodland or wildlife conservation areas. These areas do not allow for harmful toxins to be buried and thus require an appropriate casket or shroud and do not use grave liners. Some states and local authorities will allow you to bury your loved one on private property, but others will not. Check your laws to be sure.
Marking a Natural Resting Place
At green burial sites, you’ll often find a natural stone marker; some locations allow you to plant a tree or a shrub to mark a burial spot.
To read more about other green funeral alternatives and trends, click here.