A Guide to Eco-Friendly Caskets, Shrouds, and Urns
The concept of a “green funeral” has become an intriguing option as consumers consider how they can be more environmentally-friendly when planning a funeral. More specifically, green caskets or eco-friendly caskets have become more widely available, giving consumers an alternative to the more ornate and well-known wooden caskets or metal caskets that are more often seen at a funeral home.
Although green caskets are not traditional Americanized caskets, they provide many benefits to the earth from the production process to the final burial. Similar to their "traditional" counterparts, eco-friendly caskets can be made from a variety of different materials and have a wide price range, though they are generally less expensive. Traditional caskets have many unsustainable aspects to them as well as being environmentally unfriendly.
Every year in America, more than 90,000 tons of steel is used to make caskets in addition to other types of metal - most of these metals are non-renewable. More information on traditional caskets is provided in our Casket Guide. Many of the more sustainable options for caskets are not as publicized as traditional caskets by funeral homes, due in part to the price differences between the types of caskets, consumer demand for more natural caskets, and availability of green products through their casket provider. Manufacturers focused on green funeral products make caskets out of woven materials like banana leaves, sea grass, bamboo, wicker or sustainably grown wood.
If you are looking for an even simpler option, you can buy or make your own cardboard casket. When using a caskets of any materials listed above, skip the embalming process to eliminate hazardous chemicals from being placed in our environment and avoid exposing embalmers to these carcinogens.
Burial shrouds are another simplistic way to be buried. Comprised of a simple cloth, they are wrapped around the deceased before burial or cremation.
On the cremation side, there are bio-degradable urns produced for easy breakdown in water burials or ground burials. Below you'll find a full list of eco-friendly caskets and urns and information on where to buy these eco-friendly funeral products.
Burial shrouds are the simplest of vessels and are most often made of cotton, linen, or wool. Since they are handmade, they are easily customized with with specific patterns or materials. Shrouds have been around for centuries as many major religions, including the Jewish and Islamic faiths, traditionally use them in their burial practices. However, as green burial practices have become more popular, and with the help of popular HBO show Six Feet Under, there has been a rise in the demand for this type of burial product. Shrouds can be used alone as well as with a casket. Burial shrouds typically range from $195-$1,000 depending on the type and source of materials used.
Cardboard caskets, also referred to as “alternative containers”, are most frequently used for cremation, home funerals, and green burials. They are made out of biodegradable cardboard which is eco-friendly and will not harm the environment where they are buried. With their light-weight nature, cardboard caskets are convenient and easy to transport, making home funerals and home burials easier. Cardboard caskets give you the option to personalize with use of markers and paint (be sure they are good for the environment, too!). You can even build a cardboard casket yourself: How to make a coffin out of cardboard (DIYing Free).
Cardboard caskets may be the most economical way to be buried, and are considered the least expensive "alternative" or "minimum casket" required to be provided by a funeral home. Though it is difficult to find cardboard caskets online, you can often find them at funeral homes or crematories. You can request to buy one assembled or unassembled, which may make for easier transport. Prices of cardboard caskets range from $50-$100 on the lower end to $300- $500 on the higher end and are priced.
Caskets made from willow, seagrass, bamboo and banana leaves fall in the woven or wicker category. They are available in different sizes and styles. These caskets are generally made from fast growing plants that don't require large machines to harvest them, which reduced the carbon footprint as they are made. The lining of these caskets are typically made from unbleached natural cotton that is also biodegradable.
These caskets are more sturdy than other green products yet when buried they will break down and disintegrate effectively. Caskets of this sort may be higher in price than some of the other options, but these caskets appear more traditional than some of the other options.
Soft woods include pine, poplar oak, and maple. These caskets are a great way to still have a traditional looking casket but are more environmentally friendly. These woods can be left in their natural state or easily be finished to look like other types of wood. Price varies depending on the type of wood and where it was sourced from. You can expect to spend $700+ for natural wood caskets. If you know a local woodworker, you can commission a custom wood casket from them. Many will use local trees that have already fallen and repurpose them into custom pieces. For the ambitious, you can also build your own casket. Here are a few DIY Guides to Building Your Own Casket:
If cremation is the disposition of choice, there are still a plethora of eco-friendly options that can be used in honoring the dead. Post-cremation there are many options for the cremated remains. If you choose ground burial or water burial, there are specific containers you should use to ensure they properly disintegrate. Be sure to inquire with the manufacturer or your funeral professional that the urn you have picked out is appropriate for the type of water burial or ground burial you desire.
Urns for Water Burial and Scattering
Water scattering is when you go out to sea and scatter the ashes on the water. Water burial is the practice of placing a bio-degradable urn with the ashes inside, into the ocean, letting the urn sink and disintegrate over time. These urns are sustainably produced in a variety of natural materials, including recycled paper, rock salt, gelatin and sand. See our post on Watering Scattering.
Urns for Earth Burial
A simpler option for a burial after cremation is to place the ashes into a container and simply bury it. Eco-friendly urns for earth burial can be made out of any material that is biodegradable, such as hemp, cardboard, wood, starch based polymers, and tree bark. You can make your own urn out of a eco-friendly materials or find them from green-funeral product manufacturers as well as online sites like Amazon.
Earth Urns are designed to degrade over time, depending on the material chosen and environmental conditions. Generally, the more moisture in the soil, the quicker the urn will biodegrade, although several other factors including burial depth and general health of the soil must also be considered. Many of these urns can also be used for either temporary or long-term storage of cremated remains.(Passages International.com)
Urn's designed with soil and a seed inside allow for a tree to grow from and in the name of your loved one. Three of the companies who sell urns that turn into trees are Living Urns, Bios Urn and Eternitree.
Eco-friendly caskets, shrouds, and urns are starting to show up in funeral home showrooms and product catalogs. Many of them can also be found online. Some of the most well-know companies who make or distribute green funeral products are Final Footprints, who sells directly to the consumer as well as funeral professionals, Passages International who only distributes wholesale to funeral professionals (no direct-to-consumer option), and The Natural Burial Company who sells directly to the consumer or by request from a funeral home.
Online retailers such as Amazon have an increasing number of products that revolve around green burial. The Green Burial Council is a non-profit organization who oversees green burial products and funeral providers and "certifies" vendors (for an annual fee). They provide a list of "certified" green burial product manufacturers and distributors. Though this is a good reference, keep in mind that a product doesn't need to be "Green Burial Council Certified" to be green. Many of the many smaller vendors and artists choose not to listed here.