Despite being part of the natural celebration of the cycle of life and death, most modern variations on traditional funeral practices are far from environmentally-friendly.
A burial generally involves a casket made out of wood taken from forests (most of which are not sustainable), and a body that has been embalmed using chemicals such as formaldehyde—a dangerous carcinogen.
While commonly thought to be less environmentally disruptive than a full-on burial, the process of cremation can also damage the environment by releasing a slew of hazardous gasses into the atmosphere, including: mercury, dioxin and carbon dioxide.
And those are just the environmental expenses.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average price of an adult funeral in 2009 was $6,560—more than nine times what it cost to bury someone in 1960.
This dramatic cost increase could be part of the reason why increasing numbers of older adults are looking into the possibility of a more down-to-earth burial ritual.
Preserving the green in your garden and your pocket
The so-called “Green funeral” offers an alternative for those who want to avoid squashing the environment and their family with an elephant-sized carbon and financial footprint. As its name suggests, a green funeral is about honoring a loved one while preserving the environment.
The typical green funeral involves burying an un-embalmed body in a biodegradable casket or cloth shroud. The grave site is generally marked with either a tree or a naturally-hewn stone. Some cemeteries have even taken to burying GPS devices with a body to help pin point its location without using a visible marker.
Green cemeteries specialize in providing naturally-sustainable environments where a person’s remains can exist in harmony with the surrounding environment. The lawn of a green cemetery is not meticulously manicured, but allowed to grow as it normally would. Vaults are avoided, and bodies are buried in a way that prevents the ground from settling or sinking.
Here are a few tips to help get you started planning a green funeral:
1. Know your options: Some cemeteries and funeral homes have gone totally green. But that doesn’t mean that a regular funeral home or cemetery doesn’t offer environmentally-friendly burial options. Cemeteries may offer both types of burials, having set aside a portion of land to be used for green funerals. A traditional funeral home may also have green burial options. Be sure to do research and vet your options before deciding on the option that is right for you.
2. Avoid embalming: Embalming is not required by law and is frowned upon in green funerals. Some funeral homes offer embalming services that do not use formaldehyde or other hazardous chemicals, opting instead for environmentally-friendly alternatives. If you’re considering being buried in a green cemetery, but still want to have an embalming performed, check to see if the cemetery will allow a body to be preserved using “green” practices.
3. Buy biodegradable or rent a casket: A variety of biodegradable burial container options exist. Biodegradable caskets and urns can be made out of pine, willow, bamboo, recycled paper, and cardboard, among other materials. There’s also the option of renting a casket. If you chose to do this, the casket you pick will be lined with another container (generally made out of dense cardboard). The body will be displayed in the rental casket on the liner during the memorial service, after which the body will be removed and either buried in the liner or cremated.
4. Ashes to ashes (or reefs, or trees): For the environmentally conscious, being cremated can offer up a host of interesting possibilities. Ashes can be combined with concrete and molded into artificial reef habitats for fish and other marine life. They can also be mixed in with soil and used to nourish a memorial garden or tree.
Environmentally-friendly funerals have the potential to save the environment and your wallet at the same time. Even so, a green funeral won’t be the ideal choice for everyone.
If you’re not sure whether you should go the environmentally-conscious route, thoroughly examine and compare the costs and offerings of different types of funeral options before deciding how you want to preserve your legacy.
By Anne-Marie Botek, Editor, AgingCare.com
AgingCare.com provides online caregiver support by connecting people caring for elderly parents to other caregivers, elder care experts, personalized information, and local resources. AgingCare.com has become the trusted resource for exchanging ideas, sharing conversations and finding credible information for those seeking elder care solutions.