Do You Need a Coffin to Be Buried? 8 Alternative Options

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Preplanning your funeral means you can make your own decisions on your body’s final resting place. That way, you can spend the rest of your life knowing that your loved ones will be free to mourn you when you die instead of shopping for caskets. Or maybe they find out you do not wish to be buried in a casket at all. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Can you be buried without a coffin or casket? Maybe you are planning the burial of a loved one, and you wonder if purchasing a casket is a necessary expense. Are you wondering if a casketless burial is allowed? We will attempt to answer this question in this article.

We will also tell you about alternative burial options you may consider besides the traditional casket placed in the ground in a cemetery.

Do You Need a Coffin in Order to Be Buried?

It would be easy to make a blanket statement and say either “yes” or “no” to answer this question. The unsatisfying answer is that you do not need a coffin or casket most of the time, but there may be a few exceptions to this rule.

There are four primary considerations to answer this question. 

Your state’s laws

Burial laws vary from state to state, and they change periodically. While it doesn’t seem that many states explicitly require the use of a casket for burial, some require a vault burial.

A vault is a concrete structure placed underground that the coffin usually resides within. Many cemeteries require the body to be placed in a vault to keep the ground level and easier to maintain.

The zoning regulations in your area

After considering your state’s laws, you then need to become familiar with the zoning laws in your area. Some areas allow for home burials, which implies that caskets are not required. Home burials aren’t acceptable in other zoned areas.

Cemetery regulations

Even if your state does not require a casket for burial, the cemetery you choose for yourself or your loved one may have this requirement.

Green cemeteries are gaining in popularity, so you may find one near you that does not require the use of a vault or casket, and some traditional cemeteries are now adding green sections. 

The definition of a casket

Finally, even if your area or cemetery requires that a body is placed in a casket before burial, there may not be any laws stating the type of casket you can use. Is a cardboard casket still a casket? A cardboard casket may be enough to follow a cemetery’s rules!

So is it possible to be buried without a casket in the United States? The answer is yes, but you need to become familiar with the regulations in your local area. 

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If I Don’t Want a Coffin, What Other Options Are Available?

If you are searching for the answer to this question, you are probably interested in the best green burial alternatives. Or perhaps you would like to learn more about what casketless options are available. Here are some to consider. Keep in mind that these options may not be available in your state, area, or local cemetery. 

Some of these casketless burials are for noncremated bodies, but we included cremation burial options as well. 

1. Direct burial in a green cemetery

If you prefer no coffin, look for a green cemetery near you. Caskets in green cemeteries must be fully biodegradable caskets, and they are commonly made out of clay, wood, or cardboard. Vaults are not used in green cemeteries either.

While these options may sound desirable, there are other things to consider if you plan to purchase a green cemetery plot. Most of these businesses do not allow embalming. This may require you to plan the funeral quickly and may limit your ability to have an open casket visitation. 

Also, some green cemeteries allow only modest headstones and few grave decorations. You may notice that green cemeteries have more weeds than traditional cemeteries since many prohibit the use of chemicals on the grass.

2. Specialized burial shrouds

Many companies have created products to make the body decompose faster. One such company markets a burial shroud that contains mycelia of mushrooms and other microorganisms that speed up the decomposition process. You can also opt for a biodegradable burial shroud made of natural materials.

These shrouds may be inside a biodegradable casket, or if your area allows, wrapped around a body buried directly into the earth.

3. Water burial

You can scatter remains at sea but it’s now possible that a noncremated body can have that final watery resting place. The United States Environmental Protection Agency oversees whole-body disposal. The body is placed in a specialized casket and shroud and submerged in water at least 600 feet deep. 

Water burial is not without complications, and having the family present is only available at an additional cost. The logistics prove complicated for residents of landlocked states, and some states require that a funeral director is present. 

4. Burial on private land

If you or your loved one has property in a rural area, you may be able to be buried directly in the earth without a casket. Of course, this is dependent upon the state and local laws and zoning ordinances.

You may also want to check with a local real estate agent to see whether or not your need to disclose that a body is buried on the property when sold to the next owner. It’s good to be aware that this may limit your pool of buyers. 

5. Direct cremation

Do you wish not to purchase a casket for yourself or your loved one? Consider direct cremation. With this option, the deceased can be viewed by members of the immediate family at the place of death. After this, the body is taken directly to the funeral home and cremated after the appropriate paperwork is completed and submitted. 

With direct cremation, you only need a cremation casket (usually made out of sturdy cardboard). Since there is no public viewing, there is no need for the use of a traditional casket.

6. Water cremation

For lack of a better term, alkaline hydrolysis means water cremation. During this process, the body gets placed in a warm chemical bath. This process results in cremated remains that look similar to those of a traditional cremation. 

Water cremation is not yet available in every state, but it is being touted as an environmentally friendly form of cremation. And unlike direct cremation, it does not require a casket of any type. 

7. Biodegradable urns

Of course, once a body is cremated, either through traditional means or the new alkaline hydrolysis, the cremains must have a final resting place. Some people choose to scatter the cremains on private land or at a scattering garden, but some choose to bury the cremains or place them inside a columbarium niche. This may be a personal preference, but the Catholic church also advises it.

If you would like to have your cremated remains buried, consider using a biodegradable urn like this one. Biodegradable urns avoid casket use, and if buried in a place that does not require a vault, both the urn and the cremains return to the earth.

8. Living urns

There are many different types of urns to consider besides those that are biodegradable. To make sure you purchase the right urn for your or your loved one’s cremated remains, research how to choose an urn

Perhaps you are attracted to the idea of purchasing a living urn. These products mix the cremains with the nutrients of a living sapling. A living urn results in a healthy tree. 

Make Your Specific Desires Known

Unless there is a specific end-of-life plan, most families make funeral plans in the following manner:

The children of the deceased go to the funeral home and pay for embalming the body. They then pay for a casket, a cemetery plot, and a vault that will hold the casket in the cemetery plot. These products and services may cost thousands of dollars, which the family is happy to pay if they think they are fulfilling the desires of a loved one.

Instead of being embalmed and placed in a metal casket (and then in a vault), a loved one may have wanted to be wrapped in a shroud and placed directly in the ground. 

If you don’t want to be buried in a casket, make sure your family understands this. Otherwise, your burial may look far different than you imagined. 

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