What is Green Burial?
Green burial, also called natural or conservation burial, is a way of caring for the dead with as little environmental impact as possible. It is an ecologically friendly alternative to other contemporary Western burial methods. Essentially, green burial is a return to the traditions of our ancestors: the body is prepared without embalming fluid, laid in a biodegradable casket or wrapped in a shroud, and buried in a grave which has no vault or concrete liner. Green burials can take place on private land (subject to state regulations), in any cemetery that doesn’t require vaults, or in a cemetery devoted solely to green burial and environmental conservation.
Why choose green burial?
Many people are increasingly concerned about the environmental damage resulting from conventional burial practices, as well as the financial burdens. Green burial offers individuals and families the opportunity to encourage land preservation and habitat restoration. A loved one can be memorialized by planting native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, in turn supporting birds and other wildlife in the area.
“Natural burial land produces cleaner water than urban, suburban or agricultural areas, because there is no run-off of fertilizers or toxic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides or the formaldehyde in embalming fluid. Soil is an excellent filter, so products of decomposition are contained rather than leaking into the water table.” (www.pennforest.com)
Choosing green burial for yourself or a loved one is also an acknowledgment of our place in the vast web of the natural world. Nature is infinitely varied, yet elegantly simple in some ways. Nothing is wasted, everything is recycled, and thus everything is interconnected.
Did you know?
- The Green Burial Association of Maryland, is a non-profit organization that promotes the establishment and acceptance of green burials in Maryland by advocacy, public education, and providing assistance to organizations and individuals seeking to establish green cemeteries.
- No state or province in North America requires routine embalming of bodies, except in rare circumstances, such as death from cholera.
- There is no law requiring the use of a burial vault, but many cemeteries require them for ease of lawn maintenance and closer spacing of graves.
- Conventional cemeteries drain their burial vaults, including the toxic embalming chemicals, into the watershed.
- Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen, and is implicated in various nervous system disorders and other ailments. Funeral home workers are at higher risk of serious health problems due to exposure to toxic embalming chemicals.
- A typical 10 acre parcel of cemetery ground contains enough coffin wood to construct 40 houses; nearly 1,000 tons of casket steel; 20,000 tons of vault concrete; and enough toxic embalming fluid to fill a backyard swimming pool (Harris, M. (2007). Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial. New York, NY: Scribner.)
- Numerous existing cemeteries are becoming “hybrid” in their approach, offering vaultless green burial in specified sections of their grounds.
- Many traditional cemeteries are embracing the natural burial cause and converting to green burial only, such as the iconic Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston.
- The green burial movement is gaining momentum and coming to a pastoral setting near you! There are now close to 150 natural cemeteries in nearly 40 states.