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How to plan a green burial

Posted on December 17, 2020

In many ways, the concept of a green burial, or funeral, takes us back to early days of history. It is a burial in its simplest form - returning a body to the earth, without adornments, chemicals or technology.

Still, green burials are seen as a novel concept, a perception that’s swiftly changing as focus shifts globally toward conservation and sustainability.

Interest in green funerals has been steadily rising in the past decade. The modern-day movement was born in the United Kingdom, where cremation made up 98% of all deathcare practices. Rising carbon emissions and dwindling green space were among the biggest concerns contributing to the movement. Environmentalists were in search of a way to preserve key natural areas, at risk of urbanization and development.

Their idea is that green burials might reverse the number of cremations being performed. At the same time, natural landscapes could become protected conservation areas by making them green burial cemeteries.

If you’re planning for your future, or the future of a loved one, there are many factors you’ll be considering when it comes to funeral and burial planning. Among them, what you - or your loved one - really wants. What are the values you hold? What is your affinity to nature? Do you want your body to decompose naturally?

For some, opting for a green burial is easy. If you are a champion for sustainability or truly at home in nature, a green burial might be a priority for you. For others, there may be outstanding questions or concerns.

What is a green burial?

Green burial is defined as “a statement of personal values for those who seek to minimize their impact on the local and global environment. For people who are mindful of the cyclical nature of life, green burial is a spiritually fulfilling alternative to conventional burial or cremation. It is an environmentally sensitive practice: the body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally and contribute to new life.”

There are five key principles for a green burial, according to the Green Burial Society of Canada:

No embalming

This is to keep the process as natural as possible, and ensure no synthetic chemicals are put into the earth. This is rooted in the belief that decomposition is nature’s way of recycling a body, without human intervention. Bodies are still able to be prepared for viewing using more natural methods, like refrigeration and the use of environmentally sensitive soaps, lotions and disinfectants.

Direct earth burial

The un-embalmed body is wrapped in a shroud made of natural, biodegradable fibers and then buried directly in the earth. The remains can be placed in a casket, providing the vessel is also made of sustainable and fully biodegradable materials. To keep the process as green as possible, all efforts should be taken to ensure materials for burial are locally sourced.

Ecological restoration and conservation

Protecting the interment area is essential. This may seem to be in stark contrast to other memorial sites, but visitation of graves is discouraged. This helps to protect and preserve the area. Visitation of the interment area is managed through the placement of walking paths and rest areas, optimally placed adjacent to the communal memorial for the site for visitors to sit.

Following the burial and the settling of the grave, the site is planted with locally indigenous plant materials, using a combination of groundcover, shrubs and trees. The planting is done with the future growth and health of the local ecosystem in mind.

Communal memorialization

Individual memorials are discouraged, both to reduce the waste associated with grave markers and protect the environmentally sensitive area around the gravesites. A communal memorial can be found on site at green burial spaces, often made with sustainably materials. A green burial site essentially becomes a genuine earth-friendly tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Optimized land use

The foundational idea behind green burials is that decomposing bodies are returned to the earth and enrich the place they are buried. That’s why green burial sites are selected to optimize the land they occupy.

Why have a green burial?

In many ways, a green funeral is self-descriptive. It’s more environmentally friendly, free of synthetic chemicals. It is a way of ensuring your body can further enrich the earth - even in death.

Green burial sites are also required to be pesticide-free and use only organic fertilizers. No stone is left unturned when it comes to ensuring the entire process is truly green.

All of the concepts we think of when we hear the word “green” come to mind, like sustainable, organic, natural and, well, green - like trees, grass and other plant life. All of these components are found in green burial sites.

What matters most is if the concept of a green burial aligns with your values. Ask yourself if this is how you’d like to be remembered. And, do further research into green burial sites in your area. Is this where you’d like your final resting place to be?

Cost is another consideration. Though newer and more novel, green burials are less expensive. Some estimates say they are roughly half the cost of a traditional funeral and burial, because there are no costs like caskets or embalming.

Location may end up being the deciding factor for you. Currently in the United States, the Green Burial Council offers an interactive list of green burial provider maps. In Canada, designated green burial providers can only be found in a few provinces and in specific communities.

Can anyone hold a green burial?

Green funerals aren’t as simple as finding a patch of land for a grave. It is a regulated process, requiring expertise and defined processes to make it happen.

In Canada, The Green Burial Society of Canada is the certifying body. In the United States, the Green Burial Council is the regulating body.

Green burials are still a relatively new idea in the death care industry. The Green Burial Society of Canada was officially incorporated in 2013, while the American Green Burial Council was founded in 2015. According to US Funerals Online, there are currently about 160 natural burial cemeteries in the United States. According to Green Burial Canada, there are approximately 8 natural burial cemeteries.

Now, funeral and burial providers can become certified in offering green burials. They need to meet certain criteria to do so, while ensuring all burials follow the five principles outlined above. They need to follow ethical guidelines and remain in good standing with the regulating body.

Is a green burial the right choice?

There are no right or wrong choices when it comes to deciding on your final resting place - or the place of someone you love.

It’s a deeply personal choice and needs to align with the values you hold. If you are passionate about the environment and thrive in nature, this may be the route you wish to take.

Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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