Updated: Sep 18
Thanks to the recurring global coverage of environmental issues such as pollution, deforestation, wildfires, global warming, and the adverse effects of climate change, more and more people in the UK and USA are becoming aware of the impact of day-to-day human activities on the environment and continuously making an effort to adopt eco-conscious habits.
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One particular topic that has come under scrutiny is the aspect of traditional cemetery burials. According to an article in the Berkeley Planning Journal, formaldehyde-based embalming fluids contribute to air and soil pollution, yet approximately 800,000 tons are buried in USA graveyards annually. This, coupled with the amount of wood, steel, and cement buried along with the body, significantly impacts the environment.
Therefore, to minimize the negative effects of traditional burials on the environment, scientists and environmentalists are now fronting green burials and other forms of natural burials as sustainable alternatives.
How to Have a Green Burial
A green burial or natural funeral is the interment of a deceased in a manner that allows the body to decompose and get recycled in nature completely. Green burial emphasizes simplicity and environmental sustainability; the deceased is neither cremated nor prepared with any chemicals whatsoever. Instead, the body is placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud and buried at an approved green burial site.
Green burial products in the UK and USA include:
Green burial wash – used in preparing the body without chemicals
Environmentally friendly shroud
Although green burial is legal in the UK and USA, there are rules and regulations for dealing with human remains that must be followed. Some of these include;
The most important green burial law is that the containers used for interment (coffin or urn) must be biodegradable.
The body of the deceased can be prepared by a funeral director or anyone with a durable power of attorney for healthcare. However, not all states in the USA recognize the decisions of a designated agent, so it’s important to double-check with concerned authorities.
Green burials forego the process of embalming the deceased. Fortunately, embalming is not a legal requirement. However, the states of Alabama and Alaska in the USA require it when the body is transported across state lines. New Jersey, Minnesota, Idaho, Kansas, and California require embalming only when the body is being transported on a common carrier such as an airplane or train.
Most green burial cemeteries in the UK and USA also forbid or limit personal plantings and any memorial decorations on graves to preserve the natural landscape.
The rules and regulations for a green burial differ based on your location. Therefore, before you start planning, research all the green burial sites in your local area, and corresponding green burial laws, and compare the green burial costs so as to make an informed decision.
The Green Burial Council
The Green Burial Council is a nonprofit organization that encourages environmentally sustainable death care in North America. They aim to reduce toxins, waste, and carbon emissions associated with funerary products and services and utilize burial to acquire, restore, and steward natural areas.
The Green Burial Council has a strict certification criterion that awards cemeteries and funeral directors for their professionalism in upholding green burial laws and standards. The council currently recognizes roughly 72 cemeteries that conduct green burials across 40 states and five provinces in the USA.
The Green Burial Council is a great resource to boost your knowledge on green burials, certified green burial sites, the current green burial laws in North America, green burial costs, and general support when planning a green burial.
Three types of green burial sites comply with green burial laws in the UK and USA:
Hybrid Burial Grounds
A hybrid burial ground is a regular cemetery or graveyard that allows both traditional burials and green burials. These cemeteries don’t require embalming and have a provision for the deceased to be buried in any type of container, including those required by green burial laws, for example, a biodegradable coffin, an eco-urn, or a shroud.
Natural Burial Grounds
In contrast, a natural burial ground is a place that is already a part of nature, for example, wildflower meadows, woodlands, or even parks. According to the Green Burial Council, the cemetery has to be designed, operated, and maintained to produce a naturalistic appearance, based on the use of plants and materials native to the region, and patterns of landscape derived from and compatible with regional ecosystems. In addition, natural burial grounds must have a pesticide-free integrated pest management system.
This is a favorite for nature lovers as the green burial costs are cheaper, and the deceased transitions into a “greener” afterlife.
Conservation Burial Grounds
In addition to meeting all the requirements for both hybrid burial grounds and natural burial grounds, conservation burial grounds are green burial