Why should you consider a Green Funeral?

Over the last 7 years I have observed a dramatic shift in the U.S. funeral industry.  The decline of the ‘traditional funeral’ and the rise of cremation services.  Many in the industry responded to the changing trend towards cremation by treating it as a fad that would pass.  But here we are now with a cremation rate of 55%, and a forecast that it will reach nearly 80% by 2035.

It is widely acknowledged that this trend has been influenced by a few factors. But the 2 most significant, are cost and a move away from ‘traditional’ values.  But with an ever-growing concern and awareness about our environmental responsibility, cremation may not be a long-term solution.

Green Burial ContainerReturning to a more natural approach to death care

A green burial is almost a return to the ‘natural’ way that we buried our dead before funeral homes emerged and made death scientific and taboo.  Families would wash their dead, lay he or she out in the parlor, have a wooden coffin made by the local carpenter (undertaker) and then proceed to bury their loved one in a family cemetery on their land, or a local town or church cemetery.  There was minimum intervention of chemicals, and no grand selection of steel caskets.

So, a natural or green funeral, is simply a burial without any embalming or unnatural containers, in an area designated as green.  To me, it seems a natural evolvement of culture, the resistance to traditional values (especially by the baby boomer generation) to shift from simple cremation to simple burial.  The value-shift from ‘no fuss’, simplicity and affordability…to take in the consciousness of environmental concerns.

There is also emerging a minority revival of the home funeral, whereby families (especially those having dealt with a loved one who is elderly or with a terminal illness), feel a need to be involved in the death care process.

Regeneration as a death value

‘Regeneration’ has become a metro buzz term over recent years.  The notion of regenerating decaying areas and focusing on keeping investment local.  Maybe this value will extend to natural burial services in the coming years?  We only have to consider the choices.  More families are choosing simple cremation for its affordability and simplicity.  But if a simple natural burial was available for the same cost, and enabled families to feel that their loved one could be interred in a natural ‘space’ locally, would that offer a preferable option?

Natural burialGreen meadow or hybrid cemetery?

With a shift to an interest in green values, an increasing number of existing cemeteries, have created designated green sections.  These are what are known as ‘hybrid cemeteries’, as they still have their traditional burial plot areas.  This is how they are trying to respond and adapt to a demand for an alternative green option.

A truly natural cemetery is a conservation space.  A natural meadow or woodland, where a person can be organically interred, but no artificial markers and objects detract from the natural organic space.

Legacy: Our children’s heritage

The planet is already struggling under the weight of the damage done to it.  Millennials are the first generation to conscientiously make change and demand more eco-friendly products and services.  Green funerals are gaining more attention as the more environmentally option in death care.  Shifting our mind-set to embrace greener and more natural death care alternatives could be helping to position the industry for the wave of future funeral consumers and creating a better future legacy for future generations.

Human composting

The state of Washington has been the first to legalize human composting as a death care disposition option for the general public.  The law has been passed for this to commence from May 2020.  Human composting refers to the “above ground decomposition” of a human body.  This involves putting the body in a receptacle with soil, leaves and other organic materials to allow it to naturally decompose into the soil.  It is similar to a process that is used for livestock.

The end result differs to a natural burial in that the soil (or compost) that remains after the decomposition can be returned to the family to be spread on a garden or grow a tree.  It takes about 4 weeks for the process to complete and one cubic yard of soil is produced.  The cost for this process at present is estimated at $5,000.  So, it is not cheap death care alternative.

Natural Death Care: the ‘do-it-yourself’ alternative

Have you ever thought about caring for your deceased family member yourself?  Washing him or her, preparing he or she for burial (or cremation), building your own wooden coffin, transporting them to their final resting place and conducting your own funeral service.   Sounds a little extraordinary doesn’t it?  Yet it is not that long ago since that was how it was done.  Most people died at home and the family cared for them, perhaps enlisting the services of their minister and an undertaker/cabinet maker.

However, home funeral care is gaining more popularity, as there is a cultural shift towards reclaiming these rituals for the family.  We are witnessing a revival in the home funeral, or family-directed funeral, as culturally and financially Americans are seeking other alternatives for a funeral.  Natural death care seems like the other paradigm to natural childbirth, bringing the rituals of entering and leaving our lives back towards a more holistic approach.

Conducting your own funeral offers some more simplistic, personal and natural methods of disposition.  Whether you are seeking a completely organic, ecologically- friendly earth burial, or a simple cremation, arranging to do-it-yourself gives you complete autonomy over the death care ritual.

How does a green burial save money?

An average funeral in the US today costs around $7,775 (according the NFDA 2012), yet much of this cost is spent on professional fees and elaborate merchandise, and it does not include any cemetery fees.  A simple natural burial in a green cemetery is likely to cost a family something in the region of $1,000, especially if the family direct their own preparation of the deceased and opt for a basic wooden coffin.

There are a number of ‘green’ natural cemeteries across the US where you can bury your dead in a green reserve where they are naturally returned to nature.  Many of these sites even operate as non-profit organizations where a donation is requested in lieu of a burial plot.

The $1,000 Family Farewell

Yes, you can probably do-it-yourself for the cost of $1,000, an inexpensive family send-off.  Many green burial sites charge a basic fee and around $500 should get you a single burial plot.  If the family undertakes all the funeral preparation themselves, then a simple but dignified burial can be achieved for $1,000 in many areas of the US.

A basic cremation is the other alternative that can facilitate a simple low cost family funeral.  A direct cremation can be obtained in most metro areas in the US now for $500 – $800.  Cremation has long been a disposition method in many faiths and cultures, and considered by some to be a more ‘natural and spiritual way to dispose of our earthly body.  In this way cremation can facilitate a natural DIY option for the family.  Once the family has the cremated remains, a private family memorial service can be held.

Resources for Family-directed funerals:

Home Funeral Directory  – http://homefuneraldirectory.com/

National Home Funeral Alliance – http://homefuneralalliance.org/

Natural Burial Co-operative – http://naturalburial.coop/USA/

DFS Memorials – Locate your nearest low cost cremation provider