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.

Green Burial: An affordable and environmentally-friendly alternative death care option

Natural Burial Explained

What is a green burial or natural burial?

A natural burial, or green burial, focuses on an environmentally sustainable and organic way to conduct the disposition of a deceased body.  The deceased is not embalmed, and the body is interred into the ground, using only a biodegradable coffin or shroud.   The deceased is buried directly into the earth, without a concrete burial vault, or any metal parts on the coffin.

The aim is to allow the body to naturally decompose and return to the soil, as in the phrase so commonly used around death of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

Natural burialWhy opt for a natural burial?

Green funerals have been around for some time.  Indeed, what we know as a traditional American Funeral, was closer to being a natural burial in the mid-19th century, when undertakers built wooden coffins and interment was direct into the earth.

Some faiths practice only natural burial, such as Muslims and Jews, where beliefs mandate a natural, organic approach to death care.

Natural burial is experiencing something of a revival today.  It is gaining more attention in states where there is also a greater awareness, and undertaking, to be more sustainable and protect our planet and its resources.

The main reasons people consider a green burial are:

  • Simplicity
  • Cost
  • Conserving natural resources & natural areas
  • Eliminating the exposure to hazardous chemicals

Simplicity

Those who opt for a natural burial are often seeking a more simple and holistic approach to death care.  They want funeral arrangements that are simple, have minimal intervention on the body, and provide a lasting green impact on the planet.  There are options for the deceased to be buried with a seedling, allowing a tree to grow from the remains of someone who passed.  This does seem a wonderful legacy to re-oxygenate our planet and have a long-term memorial arboretum.

Cost

According to the NFDA 2018 Cremation & Burial report, a typical traditional funeral, including casket, embalming and burial vault costs $8,755, and this is without a cemetery plot fee.  Items such as embalming, a casket, a burial vault and a plot in a perpetuity in a designated cemetery, are all costly.

A natural burial works out much less expensive as none of these items are required.

Conserving natural resources & natural areas

Natural Conservation Burial SiteEvery year the U.S. buries 17,000 tons of steel and copper in vaults, 90,000 tons of steel in caskets, 30 million board feet of hardwood and 1.6 million tons of concrete.  A natural burial is not demanding on our resources as fewer resources are consumed.  Cremation, which has become more popular over the last decade, requires the resource of gas, so although sometimes considered more environmentally-friendly, it is still consuming a natural resource.

A green burial also helps to conserve our natural areas, and even create new natural forests and meadows.

Eliminating the exposure to hazardous chemicals

Formaldehyde which is used in embalming fluid is a hazardous chemical.  It is a known respiratory irritant and carcinogen.  Aside from embalming fluid absorbing into our planet as a body decomposes, it is not safe to expose funeral home workers and morticians to this hazardous substance on a routine basis.

Can a natural burial be affordable?

Yes, a green burial or natural burial, is significantly more affordable than a traditional funeral.  The need for the embalming process, an expensive casket, and a burial vault are all eliminated.

The costs for a simple cardboard container to hold the deceased, a simple pine coffin or a muslin shroud are way less than a steel or copper casket.

There are some natural burial sites that offer interment at very affordable prices.  It is fair to say that a simple, natural burial can cost between $500 – $1,500.

How do I choose a green burial site?

There are certain things you need to consider if you are seeking a green burial site.  Do you want a bespoke natural cemetery? Or a specially-designated ‘green’ section within a conventional cemetery.  This is what is known as a ‘hybrid’ green burial cemetery.  There are more conventional cemeteries that are adding green burial sections to cater for the demand for a natural burial.  Some of these cemeteries may still have plot fees that are considered more expensive than a conservation natural burial ground, as they still have costs associated with cemetery ground maintenance.

If you are interested in a ‘wild’ conservation area burial site, then you need to be more selective in which site you choose.

Click here for a list of all green burial cemeteries in the U.S.

What is there is no green burial cemetery locally?

You can consider making a burial in a cemetery greener by choosing not to have embalming performed, and using a biodegradable casket.  If the cemetery will allow it, you can choose not to use a concrete burial vault.

If the family owns rural land, you can consider a home burial.  Most states allow natural burial on private property.  Each county has its own zoning requirements, so you would need to apply for the correct permit.  Just bear in mind that unless you have established a protected family cemetery on the land, if the land-use should change, the remains could become inaccessible or disturbed.

Do I need a funeral director?  And, how do I choose a funeral company for a green burial?

In most states, you do not legally need to employ a funeral director.  It is just convention that we do.  There are 8 states that have legislation that stipulates only a funeral director can transport the deceased and obtain the necessary permits and death certificates.  If you have decided on a natural burial for a family member, in the 42 states where you do not legally have to use the services of a funeral director, you have the option to conduct a family-led funeral and transfer the deceased to the natural burial ground for interment.

Most funeral homes can assist you with a green burial option if this is what you choose.  There are also several funeral companies that are specialized in offering natural burial options.

How do I choose a receptacle for a natural burial?

Green Burial ContainerYou need to choose a biodegradable container.  This can range from a plain wooden coffin, reinforced cardboard container, wicker basket to a simple muslin shroud.  It is all about what is right for your loved one, and your family.  A wooden coffin is likely to cost more but is easier to safely transport.  Reinforced cardboard containers can be purchased at a low cost, and can be hand-decorated with messages by family and friends before being interred at a burial site.

Shrouds offer very limited support for transferring the deceased to a cemetery, but have the most minimal resistance as a biodegradable barrier.

What kind of memorial marker can be erected in a green burial cemetery?

This depends on the burial site.  If it is a hybrid green cemetery, you may be able to erect a conventional grave marker.  In conservation natural burial sites, the objective is to minimize the impact on the natural terrain.  Therefore, markers are typically only a simple natural rock or native plant.  Some green burial sites will offer some plaques that sit very flush with the ground.  Most natural burial sites with offer grave locations recorded by GPS, so that you have a permanent ‘marker’ of the gravesite location.

What does a natural burial cost?

The cost of a natural burial varies by region and what type burial site you opt for.  In general terms, a green burial for a body will range from $1,000 to $4,000.  Interment of cremated remains in a natural burial site is likely to cost between $200 and $1,000.

Although a natural burial can be achieved at a fraction of the cost of a traditional burial, some funeral home charges for a green burial can seem expensive.  A funeral home will use a simple pine casket, that they will likely mark-up.  You can purchase, or make, your own container, as the funeral home must accept any ‘appropriate’ container you provide. This can make a significant saving on the cost for the burial.

A natural burial is a very simplistic and humanist approach to death care.  Many families who opt for a natural burial feel strongly about being in control of the process, and the ritual, of death care.

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

‘Good Funeral Awards’ celebrate innovation in the UK Funeral Industry

The British have something of a reputation for a degree of ‘quirkiness’, and this seems no different in their approach to the death care industry.  The UK has recently held an event to celebrate the innovation emerging in the ‘alternative’ sector of the funeral industry.  This was staged in recognition of the changing trends in green funerals, life celebrations, new online memorial technologies and the more weird and wacky offerings that people can choose for their final send-off.

The Joy of Death Festival was staged in Bournemouth on the September 7 – 9th 2012 and attended by good funeral folks from all over the United Kingdom.  The strap line for the event “A weekend for the Living!”

The event was not only an opportunity for many funeral professionals to share practice on some of the new innovations within their industry, it was planned to help celebrate all the good funeral work undertaken by many across the U.K.  It was hoped it would dispel the recent bad publicity coverage of the funeral industry after the Channel 4 Dispatches ‘Undercover Undertaker’.  A program that conducted a scathing expose on the behind-the-scenes happenings at the largest corporate funeral chain in the UK – Cooperative Funeralcare.

The first UK Funeral Awards took place on the Friday and were based on 149 nominations from within the industry and from the general public.  The categories of the Good Funeral Awards were:

  • Most Promising New Funeral Director
  • Embalmer of the Year
  • The Eternal Slumber Award for Coffin Supplier of the Year
  • Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death in the Media
  • Crematorium Attendant of the Year
  • Best Internet Bereavement Resource
  • The Blossom d’Amour Award For Funeral Floristry
  • Funeral Celebrant of the Year
  • Cemetery of the Year
  • Gravedigger of the Year
  • Funeral Director of the Year
  • Best Alternative to a Hearse
  • Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Book of the Year

These categories provided the opportunity to highlight the trades and skills from across the funeral sector, and winners and runners-up with invited to speak about their business.  This was a very different event to the standard Funeral Directors Association Conventions, and hopefully we may see something like this take off in the U.S.

The death care industry in the U.S. is undergoing some significant shifts right now, with the cremation rate rising, and many looking towards a ‘life celebration’ as opposed to the traditional somber event.  Some states are responding more progressively than others, especially where the cremation rate is already higher, such as California, Florida, and Maine, and where there is a greater interest in greener alternatives to the traditional burial.

This is a time of change right now.  The way people think about funerals is changing, the use of technology is starting to firmly seat itself into the funeral planning, memorialization and even funeral service aspects of a funeral.  The cost of a funeral is being questioned and interrogated now more than ever as people struggle with the idea, or the finances, of spending thousands of dollars on the death care process.  DIY funerals are becoming a new ‘norm’ and are moving from the slipstream to the mainstream.  Families are questioning why they should give so much money to ‘professionals’ to manage their death care.

In the U.K. the cremation rate is at around 80%, and families can generally attend directly at the crematory for a private committal.  DIY funerals and direct cremation has already started to storm the U.K., as the British demand simplicity and affordability in their death care.  What is happening over the pond is beginning to sweep across America as the price-war for affordable funerals takes off.