In honor of Earth Day, here are some eco-friendly tips for greening your burial and other funeral planning arrangements.
The Green Burial Council has certified over two-dozen burial grounds around the country. As of 2010, you can find them in California, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
The Green Burial Council certifies four categories of cemeteries:
Hybrid burial grounds – conventional cemeteries offering the option for burial without a vault or liner, no requirement for embalming, and allowing eco-friendly burial containers.
Low impact burial grounds – cemeteries that have non-toxic and energy-conserving practices, including integrated pest management. They prohibit vaults, liners, bodies embalmed with toxic chemicals and burial containers not made from natural or plant derived materials.
Natural burial grounds – this includes all the low-impact burial ground practices, and they are designed, operated and maintained to produce a naturalistic appearance native to the region’s ecosystem.
Conservation burial grounds – these meet all the requirements for a natural burial ground, and in addition must preserve an area of land in perpetuity with an established conservation organization.
Conservation burial grounds can also serve as wildlife sanctuaries and nature preserves that restore and protect ecosystems. When operated as a nature conservancy, purchasing a burial plot can be a tax-deductible contribution.
As of 2009, the Green Burial Council had certified at least 65 eco-friendly funeral homes in 36 states. If you only have conventional funeral homes in your area, avoid embalming by having the body refrigerated, purchase a plain pine casket, and dress the deceased in cotton or linen clothing, as is done in Jewish and Muslim burial traditions. If the cemetery requires a cement liner, ask for one that is open to the earth on the bottom so the body can truly return to the earth.
Reconsider cremation. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – cremation does generate CO2 emissions, but ash scattering has a low environmental impact.
Consider a home burial. Most counties allow home burials if the family owns a minimum number of acres and a plat map of the family plot is filed with the county planning department.
Home death care is another rising trend that is allowed in every U.S. state except New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana and Nebraska. It’s what we did before the modern funeral industry became the equivalent of wedding planners for the final life cycle event.
Select burial products made from materials that are nontoxic and biodegradable, such as caskets or urns of soft woods like pine or poplar, body baskets of wicker, and cotton or linen shrouds.