I had a discussion with my father awhile back about death and funeral arrangements. He surprised me with with a unique green burial unlike anything I had heard of before. I always imagined going out in a blaze of glory, similar to a Viking chieftains funeral; floated out to sea on a wooden boat and set ablaze. Not necessarily the greenest burial, but not as bad as the more traditional; embalmed in a hardwood casket and placed in a manicured lawn cemetery for all eternity. No, his was much more creative yet raw. He said “Put my body in a burlap sack and place me in the ground. Then plant the area with apple trees”. I wasn’t so sure about the apple trees, but it did raise a good point- why not just go a’la natural?
Each year, cemeteries across the US bury approximately:
- 30 million board feet (70,000 m³) of hardwoods (caskets)
- 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
- 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
- 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
- 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
- 827,060 US gallons (3,130 m³) of embalming fluid
Cremation has been the main option for those seeking a more eco friendly burial, and those have become more efficient over the years. Of interest is the woodland burial movement, which started in the UK as a truly natural burial which also restores the native forest lands. Memorial Ecosystems has two locations which allow for woodland type burials in the US, in Georgia and South Carolina. These green burials involve placing the body back into the earth without the use of chemicals, concrete, and precious resources. In most cases the un-embalmed body is placed into a natural untreated wooden casket (a renewable wood such as pine) and lowered into the ground surrounded by forest. The body’s location is recorded by GPS and the ground above the body is restored with native plants and trees. With everything being biodegradable and natural, no artificial trace is left behind. This appeals to me in that the forest becomes your resting place, just as nature intended in the cycle of life. There are other ‘restoring’ options such as the idea behind Eternal Reefs, a unique an innovative technique of restoring coral reef habitat with the cremated remains of a loved one. Essentially an alternate way of scattering ones ashes, the body is cremated before it is mixed with concrete and submerged as a coral building substrate.
Green Burials are gaining momentum, however they have a lot to overcome. There are many laws and restrictions when it comes to dealing with bodies, so if you do decide to go green, you need to make sure your plans are legal. The Green Burial Council and Natural Death Centre (UK) has a lot of great information about what a green burial is, your options, and how to prepare for one. Imortuary is another great resource for finding funeral homes in your area to assist in preparations for a green funeral. The main theme they all cover is planning and preparation. Get involved well before you reach that point, vocalize your wishes to your family and friends so they know what you want, and then write them down.
In some ways, the largest lasting impact on the environment could be your funeral and burial, with some research, planning and creativity, your body can be a gift to the earth. A pretty renewing thought, isn’t it?