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Arranging A Green Burial: Things To Consider

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A burial is an important part of the grieving process, but it's important to note that this activity can harm the natural environment. In 2008, a survey found that 43 percent of people would consider a green burial, and an increasing number of cemeteries in various areas now offer this alternative approach. Learn more about how a green burial works, and the things you will need to consider if you want to arrange an eco-friendly funeral.

How to find a green cemetery

The Green Burial Council (GBC) is a non-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of more sustainable burial practices. In 2011, the GBC implemented an eco-rating system for burial grounds that certifies three types of cemetery.

The three categories of cemetery that the GBC recognizes are:

  • Hybrid burial grounds, which are conventional cemeteries that meet some GBC standards
  • Natural burial grounds, which meet all the GBC standards, except the need for land conservation
  • Conservation burial grounds, which meet all the GBC standards, including land conservation

The GBC uses a rating system for these three types of cemetery, ranging from one to three leaves.

Why you shouldn't use a concrete vault

A concrete vault houses a casket once you place it in the ground, and helps keep a level soil surface. This allows the cemetery to keep a flat, manicured appearance over time. Many cemeteries ask customers to have a concrete vault, but the process can prevent natural decomposition, and the manufacturing process uses a lot of energy.

A hybrid burial ground allows customers to decide if they want to use a concrete vault, but natural and conservation burial grounds completely prohibit this approach. Green alternatives to a concrete vault include a shroud, or a casket with a lid that will collapse, as both options will stop the grave collapsing over time. You can also offer to give money to the cemetery's endowment care fund to help pay toward the cost of future maintenance.

How to choose the right casket

Casket manufacturers often use toxic chemicals that use up a lot of energy in production, or through long-distance shipping. Even natural materials like timber are not necessarily green because manufacturers often use wood from non-sustainable sources.

Choose a casket from an organic and sustainable source, and look for evidence that an independent third-party has certified the product's green credentials. Alternatively, you can opt for a simple organic cloth shroud instead of a casket. A cloth shroud is biodegradable, and many manufacturers now make these products with handles and stability boards to make them easier to move.

How to choose a cemetery that protects the natural habitat

Green burial grounds should always aim to look after or restore the natural habitat. Natural and conservation burial grounds must put at least five percent of their sales revenue into a long-term maintenance fund. They must also have a restrictive covenant that guarantees the site won't return to traditional burial practices. 

Natural and conservation burial grounds must implement a number of other ecological practices to receive a GBC rating. These activities include:

  • Integrated pest management (IPM) that prohibits harmful pesticides
  • Assessment of any issues that relate to endangered species, cultural resources and hydrology
  • A plan that limits the type and size of grave markers, to preserve the natural landscape
  • A plan to deal with any unauthorized grave decoration
  • A systems and operations manual that all staff members and volunteers must follow to meet these aims

Visit a cemetery before you decide where to arrange a burial, so you can see how the site operates and talk to a staff member about the process.

When a loved one dies, it is comforting to know that the funeral process will not harm the environment. Look for certified green burial grounds, and talk to your loved ones about where you would like them to lay your remains to rest.