Green Burial: 6 Options To Have an Eco-Friendly End Of Life
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We are nothing, but dust and to dust we shall return. Amen.” – Alexander Anderson
The general demand for eco-friendly options has grown exponentially over the past few decades and brands have responded by offering green-friendly, recyclable and compostable products across the board. While many of us are focusing on ways to live green, what about dying green?
If an eco-friendly lifestyle is important to you, there are more green options than ever before for choosing a final resting place that aligns with your values. The Green Burial Council has endorsed several sustainable practices for a natural funeral, and the ever-evolving funeral industry is rising to meet the demand by helping their families pre-plan the funeral of their choice.
What Is a Green Burial?
According to the Green Burial Council, a green burial is defined as, “a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.”
Since the goal is for the body to decompose naturally, there are no concrete burial vaults used for a green burial. This allows the body to return to nature. In addition, the graves are hand dug, and there are no polished monuments. Any plants that are removed to bury the body are replaced and, within six months to a year, there is no evidence that a burial took place.
According to Ed Bixby, the owner of Steelmantown Cemetery Company, green burials are hands-on: family members can carry their loved one to the gravesite, place them on it, lower them down, and backfill the grave. He emphasizes that the participatory nature of a green burial is very cathartic. Families also feel at peace when they return to a green cemetery.
Green Burial Options
The different ways to reunite our bodies with mother nature are ever-increasing. We’ve compiled 6 ground-breaking options for you to consider as you think about your own final wishes for after you’re gone.
1. Green Burial Caskets
According to the standards set by the Green Burial Council, green caskets must be made from sustainable resources or produced from recycled or reclaimed materials. The products cannot contain any plastics and should be biodegradable and toxin-free. In addition, the materials may not be transported more than 3000 miles to the manufacturer or consumer.
Green caskets can be made of materials like:
- Banana leaf
- Recycled cardboard
- Organic wool
- Organic cotton
Most natural wood coffins can be purchased for under a thousand dollars. Green coffins that are designed with wood dowels or traditional woodworking that can cost $3000 to $5000.
Cardboard coffins are similar to the concept of burial shrouds because they can be personalized. This makes each one unique and personal. As long as the materials are biodegradable and non-toxic, cardboard coffins can be painted, written on, or decoupaged with pictures. This allows family members to memorialize their loved one with a personal message. The average cost for a cardboard coffin is around $300.
Woven fiber caskets are made of biodegradable and sustainable materials like bamboo, willow, seagrass, cotton, banana leaf, or rattan. They are very attractive, are offered in a variety of natural shades, and are usually designed with handles. They may also include a liner to prevent leakage. Woven caskets can hold up to 350 pounds and weigh approximately 50 pounds. The body is either placed directly into the casket or wrapped in a shroud. These caskets range in price from $900-$2800.
2. Burial Shrouds
Burial shrouds, ranging in price from $200 – $900, replace the clothing that would normally be worn by the deceased. The materials, designed to hold the weight of a body, range from linen and cotton to silk and wool. Shrouds can also be custom made, come in a variety of colors, and can be embroidered. Family members may even choose designs that reflect their loved one’s personality. Other people choose to use materials that carry meaning for their loved one, like a blanket or favorite piece of clothing. Families have the option to wrap the body in the shroud themselves or have the funeral director dress the body. It is also common for loved ones to tuck fresh flowers, notes, or mementos into the shroud or its ties.
3. Human Composting
The first human composting company, Recompose, was founded by Katrina Spade. Human composting or natural organic reduction is the process of turning the dead into compost and was recently legalized in the state of Washington. The process is designed for cities where land is scarce. According to Lynn Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist and adviser for Recompose, human composting works similarly to regular composting. The difference is wood chips and straw are used in place of manure and/or food scraps. Like regular composting, bacteria consume carbon-containing matter while nitrogen supports their growth. Balancing between the carbon and the nitrogen is the key to success. Too much carbon can slow down the process, and too much nitrogen can cause an unpleasant ammonia smell. When the combination is right, human composting can enrich the earth and contribute to the health of an ecosystem. Approximately one cubic yard of soil is produced per person, and the process takes about 30 days. The composted soil is returned to families, and any leftover compost will be used to nourish conservation land in the Puget Sound area. The cost of human composting will be around $5,500. Recompose intends to launch the first human composting facility in 2021.
Image via Coeio
4. Mushroom Burial Suit
Jae Rhim Lee, founder of Coeio, envisions this process as a new way of thinking about death and the relationship between our bodies and the environment. The infinity burial suit is 100% biodegradable. It is infused with a bio-mix consisting of mushrooms and other microorganisms. The biomix works to decompose the body, neutralize any toxins, and transport nutrients to plant life. The company produces a funeral shroud that is made from organic cotton and is also permeated with the bio-mix material. Both the suit and the shroud cost $1,500.
Image via Capsula Mundi
5. Burial Tree Pod
An Italian project, Capsula Mundi, offers egg-shaped biodegradable pods, which are similar to a coffin and contain a deceased individual arranged in a fetal position. The pod, like a seed, is then buried in the ground. A tree is planted above it, and its roots draw nutrients from the pod to grow.
Although the tree pod is not yet available for sale, the company currently offers a pod that holds the ashes of a loved one. This biodegradable urn goes through the same process as the burial pod. Currently, the urn is available for sale and costs $457.
The tree is chosen before a loved one’s death. After the death, family members and friends look after the tree. This allows the deceased to become a source for a new life that loved ones can enjoy and tend to.
6. Biodegradable Urns
There are many eco-friendly options available when purchasing an urn. Biodegradable urns are made from organic and recycled materials that have been harvested with sustainable methods. Like traditional urns, they come in a variety of beautiful colors, shapes, and designs. Because they are made out of the following materials, the urns decompose naturally:
- Handmade paper
- Tree bark, other plant materials, or untreated wood
- Compressed newspaper
- Palm leaves
- Salt blocks
- Unfired clay
- Cornstarch and other recycled materials
A biodegradable plastic bag may line the urn, and environmentally friendly glue can be used as a sealant. The urns will not begin to break down until they are buried or submerged in water.
If a loved one chooses to have their ashes scattered at sea, there are water-soluble urns that will float for a short time before sinking to the bottom. Once under the water, the urn will quickly disintegrate and release the ashes.
Whether you’re considering a traditional burial, cremation or green burial options, the most important thing is to think about which choice feels right for you. Sharing your final wishes with your family and planning ahead are proactive steps you can take to ensure your decisions will be respected and carried out after you’re gone.
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Click the link to download our free Planning Journal, which makes it easy to organize your wishes for the ones you love.