Green Burial

leaf&feather“Green burials let nature take its course with our remains, while supporting both the life around us and the life to come.” –Sheryl Eisenberg, Natural Resources Defense Council

What is a green or natural burial?

Green (or natural) burial is a way of caring for the dead with the least possible environmental impact. Green burial is not a new idea; it has been practiced for thousands of years and is still commonly practiced around the world. Green Burial is also starting to be used as means of facilitating the acquisition, restoration and preservation of habitat.

A green burial usually has the following requirements:

  • Embalming is not used; instead, the body is preserved in other ways such as cooling, with the use of dry ice
  • Internment of the body occurs in a biodegradable casket (such as wood, bamboo or cardboard) or shroud
  • The body and casket or shroud are placed directly into the ground without the use of a vault or grave liner
  • A green or natural burial ground often requires the use of natural markers including shrubs and trees, or engraved flat stones

How is a conventional burial different?

  • The body is usually embalmed to prepare it for viewing
  • The casket can be metal or wood
  • The body and casket are placed not directly in the ground, but inside a concrete burial vault or grave liner, which is used to keep the cemetery grounds from caving in
  • Cemetery grounds are often a source of pollutants and require watering and maintenance

Each year, 22,500 cemeteries across the United States bury approximately:

  • 30 million board feet (70,000 m³) of hardwoods (caskets)
  • 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
  • 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
  • 827,060 US gallons (3,130 m³) of embalming fluid, which most commonly includes formaldehyde.

(Compiled from statistics by Casket and Funeral Association of America, Cremation Association of North America, Doric Inc., The Rainforest Action Network, and Mary Woodsen, Pre-Posthumous Society)

Embalming

  • Embalming is unnecessary and is not required by law for common burials
  • The sanitation and preservation of a body can almost always take place without the use of chemicals
  • Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen and can have deleterious health effects for workers exposed to it in high quantities. It is implicated in cancer, ALS, nervous system disorders, and other ailments. A study by the National Cancer Institute released in October 2009, titled, “Mortality From Lymphohematopoietic Malignancies and Brain Cancer Among Embalmers Exposed to Formaldehyde,” revealed that funeral industry workers have a much higher incidence of myeloid leukemia and brain cancer

Is cremation considered green?

A cremation consumes far fewer resources than a conventional burial, but it is important to note that large amounts of energy are consumed, and large amounts of carbon emissions are created. Burial in the United States can be expensive, and cremation can be a more financially-viable option. You can find out more about cremation on our cremation page.

Resources and more information

The Green Burial Council, on their website, maintains lists of funeral providers, cemeteries, cremation disposition programs, and products that have been approved based on their standards and eco-certification program. The Green Burial Council also offers a planning guide, which is helpful if you are considering a green burial.

Please visit our resources page to find more information online about Green Burial, including locations of green burial cemeteries in the United States.

 

Local Cemeteries That Allow Green Burial

Sebastopol Memorial Lawn, Steve Lang, 707-823-7434

Pleasant Hills Cemetery, 707-823-5042

Fernwood Cemetery, Mill Valley, 415-383-7100

 

Additional Information

Green Burial Council, New Mexico