February 1, 2012

A Greener Way To Go

A traditional burial is expensive and resource-intensive - $10,000
A green burial is affordable and low-impact - $2,000
Image source: Nathan Butler

There is living more gently on the earth, and then there is dieing more gently on the earth. Monday's post here, that included coffins made out of recycled cardboard, elicited the following question from forward thinking NBA reader, Jen:
"Will government regulations let you be buried in a cardboard box in the woods? I like this idea, but am just curious if it runs afoul of any laws? I hope not, I dislike modern cemetaries, they are such a waste of space and have chemically treated lawns, etc."
It turns out that lots of people are asking similar questions in their quest to reduce the cost and environmental burden of being buried. Enter the green burial.

Traditional Burials

I used to think that a traditional burial was a fairly benign process. I was wrong. Check out the following funeral figures for the impacts of annual traditional burials in North America:
• 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid, including formaldehyde
• 180,544,000 pounds of steel, in caskets
• 5,400,000 pounds of copper and bronze, in caskets
• 30 million board feet of hardwoods, including tropical woods, in caskets
• 3,272,000,000 pounds of reinforced concrete for vaults
• 28,000,000 pounds of steel in vaults, (compiled by Mary Woodsen)
So much for a traditional burial. Then I decided being cremated was the low-impact way to go, with my ashes being spread somewhere nice (legal on public lands without a permit). It turns out that cremation is very energy intensive, and it releases toxins into the atmosphere. Argh - it isn't just living that is hard.

Like Jen and a growing number of green-minded individuals, I want to reduce my funerary footprint. Not just the embalming and materials used for body preparation and burial, but also the fossil fuels and nasty chemicals used in cemetery lawn maintenance.

Green or Natural Burials

The good news is that natural burials are increasingly easier to organize, and more people are initiating them.

Governments, along with the funeral industry, are responding to the demand by formulating guidelines, and space for this new, old way of going greener.

Europeans have a head start on North Americans, with the demand for green burials and land conservation working together to save natural areas, and provide tranquil green resting grounds. The first such project was in Wales in 1991, and has since become popular enough to spawn 225 more across the UK.

But North American demand is on the rise, and so are the natural eco-options.

Traditional cemeteries are beginning to offer separate grounds for green burials. Unlike the adjoining regular areas, in the special sections there is no need for embalming, metal liners, caskets, or concrete vaults (that are only to ensure that the ground does not sink making it easier to cut and maintain the grass).

In the green burial section of a cemetery one can go back to the earth in nothing more than a biodegradable shroud. Maintenance is also less in these areas, cutting down further on the environmental impact.

Individuals that are interested in interring a loved one in a more natural setting can contact landowners to arrange for green burials on private property. Permits can be obtained to transport, and bury a loved one in a total DIY eco-funeral.

Or, like in Europe, land preserves set aside to protect natural beauty and provide a place for low-impact, affordable burials, are being set up in Canada and the US. I could only find information on two locations in my own country, and one is right in my area on the west coast (the other is in Ontario).

A low-impact green burial is a great way to make a high-impact statement on one's way out. Initiate a search for 'green' or 'natural' burials for more information in your area.

I, for one, would be like to be remembered as a person that "Lived gently, and died gently."


  1. Love this idea very much.

  2. Great post, thanks for sharing!

    Green Endings by Oakwood Funerals provides families in Western Australia with a natural, ‘green’ way to have a funeral service. We offer families a selection of meaningful, environmentally-sustainable services and products.

    We have a carbon calculator tool on our website which helps you calculate the carbon footprint of a green funeral vs a traditional funeral.

    Find out more at http://www.greenendings.com.au!

    1. Green Endings, love your name, and love what you are doing in helping people make the change toward a less resource intensive, green exit on the way to rejoining Mother Earth. The carbon footprint calculator is a great idea.

  3. I'm going green burial for sure


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