Environmental issues are on the forefront of conversation as we see changes to the climate in the form of record-high temperatures and extreme weather events. As a result, many people are looking for creative and practical ways to lessen their impact on our planet, even after they pass away.

A green burial (sometimes called an eco-friendly or natural burial) means that the body is encompassed in fully biodegradable material, rather than a standard burial that uses a casket or other burial container and chemicals to preserve the body that may not breakdown or be good for the environment.

In addition, cities around the globe are experiencing crowded or full cemeteries, resulting in increased prices for grave spaces. Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, even pre-purchased a plot in Manhattan Cemetery to ensure he has a spot since space is increasingly limited on the island.

Green burials help with cemetery overcrowding because a person’s remains will eventually decompose into soil and the space will become usable again.

What are Some Options for a Green Burial?

In our blog post titled What to Do with Your Remains, we discussed several ways you can arrange an eco-friendly burial, including:

  • Covering the remains in a garment woven with microorganisms to aid in decomposition
  • Mixing cremains (cremated remains) in concrete to be used in making man-made reefs
  • Planting a tree or flowers on top of remains placed in a Bios Urn to aid in their growth
  • Turning remains into plant fertilizer that can be used on things like a memorial garden

There are other options for green burials as well. For instance, remains can be placed in an environmentally-friendly wooden or wicker casket or even an urn made out of recycled paper.

Alternatively, individuals can put their remains in an urn that is designed to float on top of water and eventually dissolve.

Do Regular Cemeteries Accept Green Burials?

Not all cemeteries will accept green burials because of specific requirements for how bodies must be encased, which are often the result of local or state laws. You would need to contact the cemetery that you are interested in to determine if they have green burial options.

However, most of the time when someone is looking into green burials, they will choose a natural cemetery. Penn Forest Natural Burial Park in Pennsylvania is an example of a natural cemetery that only accepts green burials.

For more options, the Green Burial Council (GBC), an internationally-recognized organization for green burial standards, provides a list of cemeteries in North America that offer natural burials.

What Makes a Burial Environmentally-friendly?

The GBC has a set of standards that they follow in order for burial products to be considered “green”, namely that caskets, urns, and shrouds must be entirely constructed out of plant-based, animal, natural, or unfired earthen materials (including the shell, liner, and any adornments).

They also list standards that funeral homes and cemeteries must follow to remain on their list of service providers:

  • Funeral homes must offer certain services and products (like three different GBC approved or rated burial containers) to be assigned a GBC Leaf Rating Level
  • Cemeteries must follow a variety of rules, including getting an ecological assessment on the site to ensure that it is prepared with minimal impact to the environment

How Do I Plan a Green Burial?

You can outline your burial and memorial wishes using an End-of-Life Plan. This document allows you to record things like funeral arrangements and what you want done with your remains.

Taking the time to write down your end-of-life wishes and informing trusted family members of the document’s location means that your relatives won’t be left guessing or wondering what to do when you pass away.

Natural Funerals and Burials

Green burials are a great way to celebrate your life or the life of a loved one while still being environmentally conscious. Thankfully, there are a variety of options for natural burials, so you can choose what is right for you and your family.

With cemeteries around the world running out of space, it’s nice to know that there are other burial options that not only save space but help preserve the environment as well.

Posted by Lisa Hoffart

Lisa is an experienced writer interested in technology and law. She's been writing for LawDepot since 2017.