Nowadays, when you think of a burial, you likely think of a traditional casket lowered into the ground. While this has been a popular choice for hundreds of years, it’s not the only option. There are many burial alternatives attracting attention and with good reason. One of the most noteworthy alternatives is green burials.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Green Cemetery?
- How Do Green Cemeteries Work?
- How to Find a Green Cemetery
- If You Can’t Find a Green Cemetery Nearby
A green burial is a “natural” burial where the body is not cremated or prepared with any embalming fluids before being placed in the earth. There is no traditional casket. Instead, a biodegradable casket or shroud is used to ensure the body returns to nature. This fully embodies the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” phrase about mortality.
Because green burials are a low-cost, sustainable choice, they’re a natural choice for those concerned about the impact of their death. It’s never been easier to find a place for your green burial, an option that used to be taboo. Today, more conventional cemeteries are offering green burial as an option. However, there are still things you need to know about how green cemeteries work and how to find them.
What’s a Green Cemetery?
Green cemeteries are cemeteries that are approved by the Green Burial Council for green burials. There are around 60 green cemeteries in the United States today, and this offering is quickly growing. However, the definition of these cemeteries is a bit confusing.
There are several different types:
- Hybrid Burial Ground: The first and most common option is within an existing, traditional cemetery. Many traditional cemeteries allow people to have green burials either in a specific section or within the existing cemetery. This is a hybrid burial ground because both traditional and green burials are permitted.
- Natural Burial Ground: In a natural burial ground cemetery, there are no burial containers or chemicals allowed. The only containers permitted are those made of natural materials. These types of facilities also don’t use pesticides to manage the landscape.
- Conservation Burial Ground: Finally, a Conservation Burial Ground must meet the requirements for a Natural Burial Ground, and it must also be run by a government agency or non-profit. In this way, the governing organization has long-term access to the burial grounds.
These guidelines are set by the Green Burial Council. In order for a cemetery to be considered any of the above, it needs to be approved by these strict guidelines. Having firm regulations in place makes it simple for people to understand the specific type of funeral wishes that meet their needs.
How Do Green Cemeteries Work?
Green cemeteries work in similar ways to traditional cemeteries, though they believe in making a minimal environmental impact. Most green cemeteries are a specific section within a conventional cemetery, but others can be their own extensive tract of land.
It’s common for cemeteries like these to focus on natural features instead of traditional landscaping instead of human-made structures. Some are even wild conservation areas that aren’t heavily maintained at all.
To be buried in this type of cemetery, you’ll need to adhere to the following:
- Natural container: If you choose to use a container to hold your body, it needs to be a natural material. These are commonly made of clay, wood, and even cardboard. There are a variety of sustainable, low-cost containers that resemble classic caskets but without the harsh materials. Some green cemeteries allow no container to be used.
- Chemicals: Traditional embalming releases a lot of chemicals into the ground throughout time, and this isn’t allowed within green cemeteries. Instead, the body is not treated with any chemicals.
- Stone or monument: Excessive or traditional headstones aren’t usually permitted within a green cemetery. In most cases, a simple stone is used, which may have the deceased person’s name on it. In conservation areas, there might be no maker at all.
- Decorations: Last but not least, most green cemeteries either forbid or limit any personal or memorial decorations. This could include wreaths, flags, balloons, flowers, and so on.
It’s important to check with the specific requirements of the cemetery before making your decision. While the green burial cost is the most common reason people choose this option, make sure these are guidelines you’re comfortable with. In addition, inform your family about requirements so they’re on the same page as you about these important decisions.
How to Find a Green Cemetery
Green cemeteries are becoming easier to find, but they’re still not as common as conventional cemeteries. Taking the time to seek out this type of facility in advance saves a lot of heartaches and struggles when the time does come.
The easiest way to find a green burial cemetery is to look for online resources. The New Hampshire Funeral Resources Organization has an extensive list of green burial locations in the United States and Canada that is a great resource. You can also contact local cemeteries near you to ask about their offerings.
More green cemeteries are popping up in convenient locations, so you might not have to travel far. Because this is a relatively new idea, not all green cemeteries might be listed as such online. Most conventional cemeteries are willing to work with you to meet your needs.
If You Can’t Find a Green Cemetery Nearby
If you’re unable to find a green cemetery nearby, don’t fret. There are still a number of ways to make your funeral more environmentally-friendly. You’ve never had more options when it comes to customizable end-of-life preferences.
Any burial can be made greener by skipping the embalming process, and by using a sustainable casket. Many cemeteries also allow you to omit the vault where the body is preserved within the ground. If not, you can use a concrete grave box with an open bottom. Ultimately, it’s just about returning the body to earth as best as you can under the circumstances.
Another option is a home burial if you or a loved one owns rural property. This is allowed in many states, but you’ll still want to check with your local zoning laws and ensure you have any necessary permits. This allows you full flexibility over the burial process.
Return to the Earth Naturally
While the idea of what comes after death is understandably intimidating, many people find comfort in knowing their body returns to the earth naturally. In ancient times, “green burials” were the norm. Prior to the days of complex caskets and embalming, laying a loved one to rest was as simple as this.
Today, there’s a return to these simpler times as a way to protect the environment and do less harm. When buried within a green cemetery, the body returns to the soil naturally. Now that you understand the ins and outs of these specific types of burial locations, you’re ready to make the right decision about your final resting place.