Various religions and societies have practiced natural or direct burials for thousands of years. Now, with the increase in environmental awareness, these practices are rising in popularity with the rest of society.
But what does it mean to have a “green” funeral? Much like other forms of ground burial, the options are vast. Families can choose to bury in biodegradable caskets or shrouds, opt for alternative preservatives instead of formaldehyde for embalming, or even choose a “natural" cemetery. Ask your funeral director to discuss your options with you.
Formaldehyde vs. Alternative Preservatives
While formaldehyde has effectively served the funeral service industry for more than a century, there has been a recent increase in the use of alternative preservatives by funeral directors around the world.
The reason for this shift is two-fold: funeral directors are recognizing the health risks affiliated with the prolonged use of formaldehyde (a recently classified “known human carcinogen”) and the increased consumer interest in environmentally friendly disposition solutions.
When considering an environmentally friendly disposition, ask your funeral director about alternative preservatives. There may be some hindrances in the use of such preservatives, like in instances of delayed or extended visitation times or shipping to another state or country.
Green Burial Products
Funeral homes are beginning to expand their product lines to include offerings for families considering an environmentally conscious disposition.
Products may include:
- Caskets and urns made from sustainable materials, such as pine, bamboo, cane, jute, cardboard or paper, sea grass, willow and wicker
- Casket liners made from organic, unbleached cotton or another sustainable material
- Biodegradable shrouds or burial clothing made from hemp, bamboo, or organic cotton
- Formaldehyde-free embalming products
- Prayer cards made from recycled paper
- Native plants and flowers
Many funeral homes have the capability of working with families that choose to have a natural or “green” burial. The challenge is identifying appropriate burial sites.
The Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization working to increase environmental awareness in the death care industry, has a cemetery certification program that categorizes natural cemeteries into four levels. These levels are as follows:
- Hybrid Burial Grounds: conventional cemeteries offering the option of burial without vaults or embalming with toxic chemicals, and allow the use of eco-friendly burial containers.
- Low-Impact Burial Grounds: dedicated sections of conventional cemeteries where burial vaults, embalming with toxic chemicals and burial containers containing hazardous materials are prohibited.
- Natural Burial Grounds: prohibit vaults, embalming and burial containers made of hazardous material. These cemeteries use plants and materials native to the environment and compatible with regional ecosystems to maintain a natural appearance.
- Conservation Burial Grounds: natural burial grounds that have engaged in land conservation with an established conservation organization
Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve
293 Irish Hill Road
Newfield NY 14867
Maryrest Cemetery and Mausoleum
770 Darlington Avenue
Mahwah, NJ 07430
Nature’s Sanctuary at West Laurel Hill Cemetery
215 Belmont Avenue
Bala Cynwyd PA 19004
101 Steelmantown Road
Steelmantown NJ 08270