A Natural Burial: 5 Ways We Can Green the Funeral Industry

By Jane Marsh

Many people equate death with coffins, headstones and embalming services. But the truth is these practices are bad for the environment. Instead, consider having a natural burial to make a graceful exit and minimize your impact on the Earth.

What’s Wrong With Traditional Burials?

The traditional funeral industry emphasizes profits over sustainability. Many standard burial practices are unnecessary, but funeral companies offer them to customers to make extra money. How do these gratuitous services hurt the planet?

  • Formaldehyde and other toxic embalming fluids can leach into waterways. Refrigerating a body before the funeral works just as well as embalming and it’s much better for the environment.
  • The American funeral industry uses 20 million feet of wood every year to make coffins, much of it coming from rainforest trees. It also annually buries 81,500 tons of metal — which has to be mined, wreaking havoc on the environment. Americans didn’t start using caskets until the Civil War, when people used them to transport dead soldiers. The tradition is unnecessary and wasteful.
  • Although cremated bodies take up less space, the process of cremation releases harmful greenhouse gases and is energetically costly.
  • Cement headstones prevent plants from growing and maintaining the area around them often requires constant mowing. Over a large space, tombstones have a negative effect on the surrounding ecosystem.

Instead of following these increasingly outdated traditions, people can opt for a natural burial when they die.

A Natural Burial: tombstones in a grassy field under lush trees
Photo by Ronni Kurtz on Unsplash

Eco-Friendly Funeral Ideas

Instead of a traditional burial, why not have a memorial service? Your friends and family can still gather to celebrate your life, but your body can kay to rest in a more natural way. Some ideas for an eco-friendly funeral include the following.

1. Having a Woodland Burial

Instead of being buried in a cemetery, consider resting in the woods. Any coffin used in your burial will be biodegradable, as will your clothes. An example is a wicker coffin and unbleached cotton clothes. Cremated ashes will be buried in a biodegradable urn. No embalming is involved in either process, so you don’t have to worry about how your body will affect the soil.

2. Becoming Organic Compost

This is about as natural as it gets. Several states have legalized the act of converting human remains into compost, allowing your body to turn into nutrient-rich soil. Your family can then use the earth to grow a garden or they can choose to donate it.

3. Donating Your Body to Science

Want to keep making a difference even after you’re gone? Donating your body to science could be the answer.

You could offer your body to a medical school so students can learn to become doctors, vicariously helping all their future patients. However, this process still uses embalming fluid and cremation. Another option is to send your remains to a body farm where researchers study forensic science.

You’ll help scientists learn how bodies decompose in different conditions, such as in the rain, with the aid of various species of bugs or in many temperatures. This data is immensely valuable for solving crimes and mysterious deaths, providing closure to grieving families. In many cases, donating your body to science is free, so high funeral costs won’t burden your family.

4. Using a Burial Pod

What if you could become a tree after you died? That’s the concept behind a tree pod burial, in which an egg-shaped, biodegradable pod encases your body and gets buried. A tree is planted above it so your body gives life to the growing sapling.

5. Being Buried in a Shroud

Skipping the casket altogether is the most straightforward type of burial — you’ll simply lay to rest in a biodegradable cloth shroud, with no concrete or wasted materials involved. For people looking for a natural funeral, this is often an appealing option due to its simplicity. Then, your family can hold a wake or memorial service to celebrate your life.

Greening the Funeral Industry with a Natural Burial

There are numerous green or natural burial sites where your body can rest, but some traditional cemeteries also allow eco-friendly burials. These types of burials often use biodegradable containers and hand-dug graves. Additionally, they use no embalming fluids, concrete vaults or polished monuments, so your body can return to the Earth in the most natural way possible.

You can also donate your body to science so that you’ll make a difference even after you die. All of these methods embrace death as simply being a part of life.

Author Bio:

Jane works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.