5 Ways to “Go-Green” at Your Funeral (and Save Money)

Green Burials

Posted on October 01, 2013 by Rachel Zeldin

You go out of your way to put every plastic bottle, can, and paper in recycling. You compost your organic materials.  You collect rainwater to irrigate your garden, and installed solar panels on your roof to reduce your dependence on the electrical grid.  Like many Americans and Canadians you are eco-conscious and have made it a habit to think about the environment and your impact on it as part of your day-to-day life. So when it is time for you to move onto the next world, you want to be equally green with your choices.  What if you don’t know how to do so and who will uphold your wishes? Below are the 5 ways you can “Go-Green” for your funeral and burial:

1. Say No to Embalming. 

Embalming, a method of temporarily preserving the body by replacing the body’s fluids with chemicals such as formaldehyde, methanol, or ethanol has become a North America tradition. Many families opt for embalming to extend the time they have between the time of death and the funeral and burial. Not only is embalming almost always NOT required, if you do need to postpone the funeral date to accommodate out-of-towners, have a medical examination, or other circumstances, there are alternatives to embalming to temporarily preserve the body:  refrigeration, dry-ice, or another cooling method. Skipping embalming avoids the use of putting toxic chemicals into the ground, exposing funeral directors, morticians, and embalmers to the toxic chemicals, and saves you money – on average $695*.

2. Say No to Burial Vaults and Liners. 

Burial vaults and burial liners are a secondary container that is purchased to house the casket in the ground at the cemetery.  Contrary to popular belief, they are not required by law!  The cemetery often requires them to help with ground maintenance. By electing a natural or green cemetery or burial ground, which will not necessitate a burial vault or liner, you can save on average $1,298* JUST by eliminating that one purchase.

3. Choose an Eco-Friendly Burial Container. 

Whether it is a casket, urn, or burial shroud, choose a container that is made responsibly from sustainable materials that are easily renewed or recycled, require less energy for production and delivery, and bio-degrade easily.  There are many “green” manufactures that make it a point to create caskets out of banana leafs, sea grass, bamboo, cardboard, rattan (wicker), fabric, or sustainably grown and harvested wood.

Seagrass Casket  Seagrass Casket
Rattan/Wicker Casket   Woven Bamboo Casket
51dlYCbdp-L Woven Willow Casket

Urns provide even more options for you to choose from. Aside from bamboo, wood, banana leafs, rattan or fabric, you can use almost any natural material including gourds, coconuts, stone, and clay, to name a few. You can also visit amazon.com where you can find biodegradable cremation urns, as well as scattering tubes to suit your needs. 

Check out the Green Burial Council’s list of eco-certified funeral product manufacturers when selecting your casket, urn, or burial shroud.

4. Select a Natural Burial Ground or Cemetery.

When evaluating cemeteries for burial, consider one that promises to preserve or restore natural habitats and prohibits use of outer burial containers i.e. burial vaults or burial liners. The Green Burial Council recommends choosing a green cemetery with legal protections prevents the land from becoming (or returning to) a conventional cemetery and that has established a fund for long-term maintenance. They also recommend asking the following questions to be sure your green burial ground doesn’t become a conventional cemetery before or after your passing:

  1. Has a restrictive covenant or a conservation easement on the property.      

  2. Ask if the cemetery puts at least 5% of the sales from burial plots into an endowment fund.

  3. Also ask 
who has oversight of the fund."

5. Choose a natural grave marker. 

Opt for no marker, or have a tree, rock, or special flowers or native plants be the grave marker.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have your grandkids and great grandkids climbing on “Pop-Pop’s” tree or creating a natural habitat for butterflies and birds to graze? The great news is, by making some or all of these choices, you are staying true to yourself and core values and will almost certainly save money compared to a traditional burial.

* Average cost based on the NFDA’s 2012 national survey of funeral homes and associated costs.