Green vs. Traditional Embalming: What’s the Difference?

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A recent hold up for anyone deciding whether to embalm their loved one is the fact that traditional embalming is unfriendly to the environment. It’s been practiced for decades now in America and, while it is still largely accepted, is seen as a potential problem as more and more people are buried with embalming fluids in their bodies.

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Many families are looking for a greener option than traditional embalming that doesn’t include the process of cremation. Families want more choices and the burial industry is catching on. With the push toward more environmentally friendly options, some mortuaries are offering something called “green embalming.” 

What is Green Embalming?

The process of embalming has been practiced in America since the time of the Civil War. Back then, families needed a way to transport the bodies of their loved ones from the battlefield back home for burial. Though the needs for embalming may vary today, embalming is still widely practiced. One of today’s top reasons for embalming includes a better presentation of the body for viewings.

For ages, the only embalming fluid has been a chemical mixture composed heavily of formaldehyde, a highly toxic poison if ingested or breathed. Even touching the chemical can cause chemical burns. Due to the number of decomposing bodies in cemeteries all over the United States, the concern is being raised about the amount of formaldehyde that is seeping into the ground and water table. 

As a society, America has become far more health-conscious and eco-friendly. This trend has also touched the funeral industry. As more families ask for greener options in terms of the embalming process, companies have decided to go back to the drawing board to come up with a green embalming solution.

Green embalming is growing in popularity and becoming a preferred burial alternative to traditional embalming for families that want their loved one’s body preserved. Whether embalming is done for viewing purposes or any other reason, eco-conscious families now have a greener option than the traditional formula containing formaldehyde.

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How is Green Embalming Different From Traditional Embalming?

When it comes to the embalming process, green embalming is no different from traditional embalming. Fluids are still pumped into and through a deceased person’s body while their blood is withdrawn simultaneously.

The embalming fluid helps to preserve the body, slows decomposition, and restores a person’s appearance to a more lifelike and sleeping state. Beneficial presentation is always the end goal when it comes to preparing a body for viewing prior to burial and is one of the reasons why embalming is still so popular today. 

Traditional embalming

Traditional embalming uses a formaldehyde-based solution to preserve the body. Within the solution are pigments that help restore the skin’s natural color and appearance. The solution works well, however, it is poisonous and toxic to the environment. 

The concern with traditional embalming is that, as bodies decompose, the formaldehyde solution will seep into the ground and, eventually, the water table. As expected, formaldehyde is not great for the ground, crops, or human consumption. The more people who are buried with the formaldehyde solution, the greater the concern regarding formaldehyde leaching into groundwater and soil will eventually do to our environment and drinking water.

Green embalming

Green embalming provides a non-toxic and biodegradable solution that still preserves the body and restores its appearance. One company, in particular, has taken up the mantle to provide a green embalming solution to customers and morticians who want the eco-friendly option.

The Champion Company has devised the Enigma embalming solution, a mixture of non-toxic chemicals and plant-derived essential oils. While doing the same things as the formaldehyde-based solution, this option is viewed as “green” because the solution is safe. Anyone who has been embalmed with Enigma embalming fluid can have a viewing prior to internment and is eligible for burial in any cemetery available — including green cemeteries. 

Green embalming is a worry-free alternative to traditional embalming, as the solution is non-toxic. Families that want to be more eco-friendly while still preserving their loved one for a viewing will find the Enigma solution to be the answer they’re looking for.

How Does Green Embalming Play a Part in a Green Burial?

If families want a truly green burial, they are already in search of funeral and burial practices that impact the environment as little as possible. A traditional burial, unfortunately, can impact the environment for hundreds of years or more after a burial. Green burials do not.

Those looking for a green burial often look to the Green Burial Council for guidance on what constitutes a green burial, in addition to locations where green burials are provided.

According to the Green Burial Council, they help provide grieving families with funerals that focus on the following:

  • Providing meaningful rituals to respect and honor the deceased 
  • Protecting the Earth
  • Honor funeral traditions sacred to each family
  • Providing sustainability for the environment so future generations are benefited

As a certification organization, their focus is also on extending certifiable and standardized green burial practices across the country so everyone can have access to green burials. When the Green Burial Council certifies a mortuary or cemetery as “green,” they’re looking for several things.

To qualify for Green Burial Council certification, the funeral provider must adhere to the following:

  • Non-toxic embalming
  • No-vault burials 
  • Bury only in biodegradable containers such as cardboard, untreated wood, shrouds, and woven grass
  • No herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers used on cemetery grounds
  • Use and encourage sustainable management practices for cemetery grounds
  • Use of native and non-native stone markers to note the location of gravesites such as GPS
  • Support land conservation efforts

Notice the first thing on the list is non-toxic embalming. This is a key part of their environmentally friendly focus. They do not, however, say no embalming. So what do grieving families have available if they want to bury their loved one in a green cemetery? They choose a mortuary that provides green embalming.

As long as a person is embalmed with a GBC-certified embalming solution such as the one from The Champion Company, families can still bury their loved ones in a green cemetery.

How Do You Get or Find a Green Embalming Service?

Finding green embalming services no longer has to take hours out of your day as you call funeral providers individually. Here are several ways you can easily find green embalming services.

The Green Burial Council

Thanks to the Green Burial Council, finding a funeral service provider that does green embalming is as simple as a few clicks away. When you visit the Green Burial Council website, you’ll see a tab labeled, “Find Providers.” When you hover over it, you’ll find searchable options including:

  • Cemeteries by state and province
  • Product providers for eco-friendly shrouds, caskets, and urns
  • Funeral homes by state and province 

Click on one of the above options to find service providers in your location. The Green Burial Council list includes only funeral service providers in the United States and Canada so far.

Other methods for finding services

If you can’t find a green funeral service provider near you listed on the Green Burial Council, don’t despair.

The businesses listed on the Green Burial Council are only those who have sought the certification. There might be other green funeral service providers that have yet to receive certification.

Try a web search

If nothing comes up on the Green Burial Council website, try your hand at a web search. Typing in the phrase “Green funeral services near me” will bring up any funeral service providers that specialize in green services where you live. 

Scan through the list and call a few to determine what services they provide. Many businesses will list green services on their website while others will recommend a phone call consultation to determine if they are a good fit for your needs.

Call funeral providers in your area

Calling individual funeral providers might take a bit more time than a web search but if you have a cemetery or funeral home you’re keen on, calling them is a great idea.

Some of the more popular cemeteries are starting to carve out areas for green burials or are adopting green burial as an alternative to traditional burials. 

Green Embalming vs. Traditional Embalming: A Snapshot

Both green embalming and traditional embalming achieve the same goal of preparing the body of a deceased loved one for a viewing, but with different chemicals. Green embalming chemicals are non-toxic, meaning they will not pose any problems to the ground or leach any dangerous substances. Both, however, largely serve the same purposes. They preserve a person’s body for delayed funerals or funerals with a viewing element. Both options also help restore a person’s natural look and appearance.

The biggest difference between green and traditional embalming is the eco-friendly nature of green embalming. If you need or want your loved one to be embalmed but you’re concerned about the impact of traditional embalming on the environment, choose green embalming for the best of both worlds.


Sources

  1. “Enigma Ecobalming.” Product Catalog, Champion Embalming, 2021. thechampioncompany.com/product-catalog/enigma-ecobalming.html
  2. “Green Burial Characteristics.” Burial Grounds & Cemeteries, Green Burial Council, 2021. greenburialcouncil.org/burial_grounds_cemeteries.html
  3. “Mission and Organization.” Our Mission, Green Burial Council, 2021. greenburialcouncil.org/our_mission.html

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