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What is a Green Burial?

As more Americans have become environmentally conscious, green burial has become a growing trend. Through traditional burial, it’s estimated that every year in the U.S. alone, we bury the equivalent of 4 million acres of forest in casket wood and 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde, a toxic chemical that can then get absorbed into the earth, air and water. Even cremation, which is generally considered to be more environmentally friendly, uses the same amount of energy as a 500-mile car trip each time.

What is the definition of a green burial?

The Green Burial Council lays out a set of criteria for the certification of funeral homes, cemeteries and products. While there are various levels of certification, the key criteria revolve around the following things:

  • The body either hasn’t been embalmed or has been embalmed with fluids approved by the Green Burial Council.
  • The body has been buried in a container or shroud that is made only of natural, biodegradable materials and without a concrete or metal vault.
  • The cemetery restricts the types, sizes, and visibility of memorial markers to preserve natural views and focuses on cultivating native plants.

Where can I find a green burial site?

There are now more than 300 green burial sites in the U.S. and Canada (up from just 1 in 2006!). On Ever Loved, you can find the comprehensive list of certified funeral homes and cemeteries.

What are some eco-friendly alternatives to a green burial?

If you're interested in an environmentally friendly disposition, but don't want to be buried, there are alternatives.

Return to soil. If you'd like to have your body turned into soil, human composition (also known as natural organic reduction) became a legal method of disposition in 2020. The state of Washington is the first state to allow human composition as a method of disposition. Human composition involves placing a body in a container, filling it with organic material and heating the container up to speed up the natural composition process. Once the body is fully decomposed, the soil is returned to the family who can then use it to plant a tree, use it in a garden, or spread it in a meaningful place. Recompose states that their process takes up 1/8 of the energy compared to a traditional burial or cremation.

Become a tree. If the idea of human composting is too morbid, but you're still interested in an eco-friendly disposition, consider having your ashes placed near a tree. Better Place Forests allows families to choose a tree in their forest, mix their loved one's ashes with soil and place this mixture at the base of a tree, contributing to the natural eco-system of the forest.

Become a reef. Eternal Reefs will mix cremated remains into a "reef ball" and drop it into the ocean. Reef balls grow over time and provide the ocean with much needed reef replenishment. Having your ashes mixed into a reef is a great choice for those who feel tied to and closely connected with the water.

How common is green burial?

While green burials are a small percentage of overall burials currently, interest is growing rapidly. In 2015, almost two thirds of adults over 40 said they would be interested in green funeral options, compared with only 43% in 2010, according to a study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council.

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Last updated March 25, 2021
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