An increasing number of Americans have begun exploring green burial choices. There are many reasons for this, but many cite the desire to be ecologically responsible.
The intent of a green burial (also called a natural burial), is for a dead body to return to the earth as naturally as possible. This means skipping the toxic embalming chemicals that can pollute the soil. It also means eschewing traditional hardwood caskets that don’t biodegrade.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Breaking Down the Costs of a Natural Burial
- Natural Burial vs. Traditional Burial Costs
- Four Ways to Save Money on a Natural Burial
But there are more than just environmental reasons for choosing a natural burial. More personalized service is part of the appeal of these burials. Many may choose to plan funerals that are a celebration of life rather than a grieving of death.
And finally, there’s also the cost factor. The average funeral in the United States costs over $11,000. Depending on which kind of green burial you choose, it can cost significantly less than a traditional funeral.
So how much does a natural burial cost? That depends on quite a few different factors. Let’s break down all aspects of green burials to get a better idea of the true costs.
Breaking Down the Costs of a Natural Burial
Green burials may lack some of the elements of a traditional burial, but there are still hidden costs. Overall, a natural burial typically costs much less than a traditional burial. Here is where you can expect to allocate funds:
Some jurisdictions require a burial permit to bury a body, dispose of cremated remains, or to transport a body. Call your local City Hall or equivalent government office to find out if you need a permit. In most places, a burial permit costs between $10 and $40.
Note: you will need a copy of the death certificate to secure a burial permit. If you’re unsure how to do this, check out our post on how to get a death certificate.
There are currently over 150 green cemeteries operating in the United States. The cost of acquiring a burial plot in one can run from $1,000 to $4,000 depending on location. The plot of land, fees associated with burial, and a simple stone marker are included in this cost.
A portion of the fees will be allocated to the endowment that supports the conservation land.
Burials in a green cemetery also cut costs in other areas. Bodies interred in green cemeteries usually cannot be embalmed, which saves over $700. There is also no need for a vault, which saves almost $1,400.
Green cemeteries typically leave it to the next-of-kin to arrange a service. This freedom allows the service to be as simple or as extravagant as you want. Having a religious leader say a prayer or lead a service comes with the expectation that you pay an honorarium between $150 and $300.
You may also choose to spend money on food and drink or hire a musician to perform. Ultimately though, it comes down to the wishes of the deceased, and the available budget.
The caskets you buy at a traditional funeral home can wreak havoc on the environment. But there are some great eco-friendly options which cost a fraction of the price. Cardboard caskets are the lowest-cost option.
They are biodegradable and usually cost between $50 and $500. Caskets made out of softwoods like pine, oak, or maple can start as low as $500. Wicker coffins are made from woven natural fibers like bamboo or seagrass and start at around $1,000.
Caskets are not strictly necessary for burials, either. Burial shrouds made from natural fibers like cotton, wool, or linen will biodegrade quickly. Depending on the fabric you choose, a burial shroud could run between $200 and $1,000.
Burial clothing made out of natural fibers will fully biodegrade along with the burial vessel. Bodies may also be buried nude or wrapped in a burial shroud with no other clothing.
Natural Burial vs. Traditional Burial Costs
If you’ve never planned a funeral, you might not realize just how much a green burial can save you. The National Funeral Directors Association reports on funeral expenses within the United States. The information below can help you get a better idea of what you can expect to pay for more traditional services. Keep in mind that the figures below are median costs.
Funeral homes oversee the transportation of the body to the mortuary and burial site. They’ll often arrange to transport family members from the onsite memorial service to an offsite burial. They will also submit all the necessary permits for your service. These transportation-related services can total around $850.
If you opt to hold a viewing and service at a funeral home, you will pay for staffing and some usage fees. The inclusion of programs and prayer cards or flowers will incur a fee. The body is typically embalmed, and there are extra costs for dressing a body, applying makeup, and styling hair. These specifics could cost upwards of $2,200.
Next, there are the costs associated with the burial itself. A burial plot, casket, burial vault, and headstone could run around $6,000 at the lower end of the budget. And for top-of-the-line items, you could pay upwards of $18,500.
Finally, you can expect to pay a service charge of approximately $2,100 to a funeral director.
Four Ways to Save Money on a Natural Burial
Even if you’re saving money by having a green burial over a traditional burial, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question costs. There are still more ways you can ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.
Tip: One way to cover some of the expenses of a funeral and green burial is to ask for donations in lieu of funeral flowers. If you'd like to ask for donations in lieu of flowers, consider creating a free online memorial page with fundraising.
Tip #1: Comparison shop
You may have a hard time finding two green cemeteries close to each other. Don’t get dismayed if there is only one within proximity to you. Instead, comparison shop by calling a traditional funeral home or two and asking for a breakdown of costs.
If a green burial plot near you is charging you anywhere close to the quoted amount, they may be overcharging.
Tip #2: Opt for a home burial
If a green burial plot is too costly, you may be able to bury your loved one at home. Not every jurisdiction allows this, and those that do generally require you to have at least two acres of land.
But if you qualify, your loved one can be buried close to home for just the cost of a burial permit. However, factor in how you will feel if you unexpectedly have to move from that land—it may be hard to leave the grave behind.
While green cemeteries are higher cost, the land is typically protected, so you’ll always be able to visit.
Tip #3: Plan ahead
If you would like to have a green burial, take the time to research everything that needs to be done ahead of time. You can even include instructions about the material you’d prefer for your casket and clothing.
Prepare a document for your next of kin that breaks everything down into clear and simple steps. People who are grieving may be overwhelmed about making decisions. Making those choices easier will allow them to honor your wishes without undue stress.
Tip #4: Use a natural grave marker
Green funerals are already nontraditional. Why not choose a nontraditional headstone? Instead of acquiring an expensive headstone, use natural elements.
Planting a tree, for instance, gives you a concrete thing to tend to which is helpful for the healing process. And the planet can always use another tree.
Green Burials Make for an Affordable Option
The funeral trappings we take for granted only became widespread in the United States and Canada in the last century or so. For thousands of years, cultures all over the world disposed of bodies without using preserving chemicals. Green funerals may seem nontraditional, but just a few hundred years ago they were de rigueur.
And not only do green burials help save the earth, but they can also save you money. Even if you’re not a conservationist, green burials are can be a great burial alternative for people who don’t mind walking the road less traveled.
- “Statistics.” nfda.org, National Funeral Directors Association, 18/07/2019, www.nfda.org/news/statistics.