For those who choose to actively live lightly on our earth the question of how to leave when we die can be confusing. Fortunately, just as in green living, there are many options for green burial. As with all end-of-life decisions, your local funeral director is your best resource. He or she will help you sort through the choices and find a solution that supports your values, comforts your family and fits within the budget.
The “greenest” burial will not introduce any inorganic materials into the grave site. But, just as in nature there are many shades of green. It is possible to be kind to our earth without sacrificing our comforting rituals and ceremonies. Think of burial like transportation. Walking in shoes made of organic materials is probably the most earth friendly mode of transportation, but that would be very impractical in the world we live in today. So, we do our best. Maybe we carpool, drive a hybrid or electric vehicle, or source our food locally. We just try. The same is true with burial. If it is important to you, there are many options you can discuss with your funeral director about how to go green or greenish.
The greenest of green burials will take place in a designated natural or green cemetery. Depending on the rules of the individual cemetery the body may be shrouded and placed directly on the earth. No vault will be required or permitted. The objective is for the human body to be absorbed by the earth in the most expeditious manner. Some of these cemeteries will permit a wooden casket, or a woven basket made of natural untreated materials as a receptacle for the body. Natural or green cemeteries maintain their grounds with minimal intervention and organic materials.
Designated green cemeteries are often more costly than standard cemeteries. Still, it is possible to have “greenish” burial in a less expensive conventional cemetery. In this case you would ask your funeral director about using eco-friendly embalming fluids. The cemetery’s requirement to place casketed remains in a vault or grave liner can often be met by requesting permission to place the casketed body directly on the earth. The grave liner can then be placed over the casket, open end down on the earth. In this case you would discuss natural casket options with your funeral director. Most casket makers offer natural untreated caskets that are beautiful.
All the rituals; viewing, faith-based ceremony, celebration of life, burial, and even flowers date back to the earliest people who inhabited the earth. They all have a purpose. Respect and reverence for life, an opportunity to “see” one last time in order to process our loss, to put the death in the context of our belief system, to have a place to visit and remember. It all happens for a reason. Being green doesn’t mean loss of any of the aspects of death care that provide comfort for your family. When being green is important to your family, talk to your funeral director and just do the best that you can.