Just as people have become more environmentally conscious and have focused on living “green”, many are thinking about a last green act – a green funeral. This is one where the end-of-life ritual does as little harm to the environment as possible.
It can include such simple things as reducing carbon emissions by carpooling to the funeral, encouraging charitable donations instead of cut flowers and selecting a funeral home that has energy efficient methods, recycles and is energy conscious.
Burial can be in a traditional or a green cemetery. If you choose to have a greener burial in a conventional cemetery, you can do so by opting to use a shroud and a simple, biodegradable casket. An eco-friendly casket is usually made of bamboo, sea grass or willow. It can also be made of heavy cardboard or a soft wood such as pine.
May conventional cemeteries require either a vault or a grave liner but there are some conventional cemeteries that are beginning to allow vault-less burial. A compromise is the liner with no bottom, which allows the body or casket to rest directly in the earth.
In a green cemetery, trees or shrubbery is often planted in place of headstones or other traditional markers. This creates a living memorial instead of a “dead” one. A green cemetery is basically a nature preserve that has trails to walk through. There used to be very few of these green cemeteries but the number is growing.
If burial is in a conventional cemetery, choose the smallest headstone allowed and try to find a monument builder who uses indigenous stone to reduce the carbon footprint of production and transportation.
Full body sea burial can also be made greener by not embalming it but merely wrapping the body in a shroud.
If you prefer cremation, there are biodegradable urns that can be used for ground or water burial. They are often made from sustainable, recyclable materials such as Himalayan rock salt and handmade paper. These urns degrade in a matter of days once they are placed in the earth or the sea.
For more information about green funerals, there’s a video from KQED that might be of interest. You can also check out the information from the Green Burial Council.