What Is a Green Burial and How Do They Work?

Although it is an honor to plan a loved one’s post-life services, there are many decisions that go into laying our remarkable loved ones to rest. Burials are an opportunity to celebrate the incredible lives our loved ones led and the legacy they are leaving behind.

If your loved one was passionate about sustainability and the environment, you may want to consider the ecological impact of their memorial services. By planning an environmentally-friendly memorial, you can honor the impact and legacy of an exceptional and thoughtful individual.

Green burials were created as an Earth-friendly alternative to traditional burials, as traditional burials can pollute ecosystems in the ground and release toxins into the atmosphere. Green burials honor your loved ones by returning them to the Earth with mutual dignity for their body and their surroundings. However, there are many post-life services that can honor the life led by your remarkable loved one.

What Are the Options for Post-Life Services?

The death of a loved one is a challenging and heartbreaking time. As we grieve the loss, we’re left with many choices when planning a memorial service, wake, or funeral.

Hiring a professional to help you navigate this difficult time can help you make mindful decisions to celebrate your loved one while also leaving you time to heal. Looking towards your community of family and friends can also lighten your load immensely and provide the time you need to celebrate their remarkable life.

Whether you choose to plan these services alone, with the help of a professional, or with the support of your community, there are many ways to lay your loved one to rest. Each option is thoughtful, hygienic, and provides opportunities to make eco-friendly and sustainable decisions.

Traditional Burials

During a traditional burial, our loved ones are embalmed before being placed in a memorial casket, typically chosen by surviving friends and family members.

Although embalming uses formaldehyde — which is a carcinogen — formaldehyde-free fluids can be requested to incorporate green and clean practices into a traditional burial. You can even request the use of biodegradable essential oils if you believe that would best honor your remarkable loved one.

Cremation

Another common option for post-life services is cremation. Flame-based cremation transforms remains into ashes through the burning of fossil fuels.

Most of your loved one’s body will turn to a harmless gas, but if they have amalgam fillings in their teeth, for example, cremation will give off mercury into the environment. If you take steps to work with the carbon that is leftover in their ashes, you will be able to transform this process into a much more environmentally-conscious one.

Aquamation — or liquid-based cremation — is another green option for environmentally-conscious services that use significantly less energy than flame-based cremation and does not require the burning of fossil fuels.

Cremation is a wonderful alternative for families looking to reduce costs. There are many ways to celebrate a loved one using memorial ashes, such as displaying an urn in the home, scattering the ashes somewhere with sentimental value, or creating a memorial diamond.

What Is Green Burial?

The term green burial applies to any burial that incorporates eco-friendly practices. Hybrid green burials may incorporate some environmentally-conscious practices while maintaining other traditional aspects, while an entirely green burial takes every opportunity to reduce harm.

How Does Green Burial Work?

When you give back to the Earth, you honor the positive impact your loved ones created during their lives.

You can incorporate green burial practices by forgoing a grave liner — which can impede decomposition and aren’t biodegradable — using a biodegradable casket or a shroud made with biodegradable materials in place of a wood casket or concrete vault, or using a hand-dug grave to reduce emissions from machines.

Many green burial sites will also choose eco-friendly grave markers in place of the headstones or burial vaults we typically see in conventional cemeteries. Some green burial cemeteries even choose not to use herbicides or pesticides when caring for their grounds.

Another option is choosing not to embalm your loved one or choosing to embalm with essential oils. Although this means that burial will have to happen quickly, this prevents toxic chemicals from the embalming fluid from seeping into the ground.

It takes roughly two years for a body to fully decompose into soil. The soil itself filters out toxins from the body and pulls organic compounds together. If you choose a natural burial, over time, the soil will be replenished with natural resources like nitrogen and become rich, which benefits the environment instead of harming it.

Many Jewish and Muslim people will find that their traditional funeral services already take steps to reduce carbon emissions and improve their environmental impact, showing how green burials can go hand-in-hand with conventional post-life services.

Green burials without a wood casket are legal, and there are green cemeteries, natural burial grounds, and even green funeral homes available that specialize in this form of post-life service.

Some families may even choose a home burial on their private property, which is allowed in every state except California, Indiana, Arkansas, Washington, District of Columbia, and Louisiana. This requires certain permits from your state government to legally create a cemetery on your land.

By laying your loved one to rest on your property instead of a conventional burial plot, you can lay them to rest somewhere with sentimental value. You can even use that fertile soil to plant a tree or garden that will honor their legacy for generations to come. A home burial can reduce costs as well, and it allows you to have the greatest control over the process and ensure that every opportunity to benefit the environment is taken.

Of course, many of us do benefit from the help of death care professionals who have been trained to lay our loved ones to rest hygienically, ethically, and with their wishes in mind, including the desire for green post-life services.

There is no incorrect option for post-life services, but knowing all of the choices available can help you confidently and thoughtfully make your decision.

Are There Organizations That Can Help Me Plan a Green Burial?

If you decide that green burial is the best way to honor your loved one, the National Home Funeral Alliance can help coordinate home burials legally and safely.

You can also look for local green burial professionals and green cemeteries for support with many types of green end-of-life services beyond green burials.

For example, the Great Burial Reef in Florida has a program where they use artificial reefs made of PH-balanced concrete to house urns, creating reef balls for the ocean by putting ashes into concrete mixtures that don’t harm wildlife. The Forest Stewardship Council also certifies eco-friendly wood that can be used for caskets.

When looking into your options, the Green Burial Council is a wonderful resource. They also provide certification for cemeteries and categorize them based on their practices, and they offer links to other professionals that may better honor your loved one’s needs.

Other Green Alternatives to Burials

Green burials may be a more popular choice than we realize — in 2018 the National Funeral Directors Association reported that 54% of U.S. citizens debated having a green burial. Many of our remarkable loved ones were passionate about the environment and leaving behind a better future for their surviving family members.

However, there are ways to honor your loved one’s commitment to sustainability even if burial options are not the right decision for you. If you choose to cremate your loved one, you can opt for aquamation cremation to make the process more environmentally friendly.

This provides many additional opportunities to celebrate your loved ones’ remarkable lives, including the creation of a memorial diamond.

What Is a Memorial Diamond?

A memorial diamond uses the carbon in cremated ashes to grow an authentic diamond. Throughout the 10 to 12 month process, you can follow your loved one’s carbon throughout its transformation, allowing the seven-stage process to act as a tool along your healing journey.

After hearing your loved one’s remarkable story, we extract the carbon from their ashes and place them in a lab that replicates the intense heat and pressure found in the Earth’s mantle.

We do this by using temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and 850,000 pounds to heat and crush the graphite, with the pressure forming a diamond.

Our last two stages include looking at the quality of your new diamond and scanning it for natural inclusions. Our master cutters create an ideal shape for your unique diamond to optimize sparkle and minimize imperfections. We can then add personalized touches like color, setting, and engraving to further add elements of your relationship with your remarkable loved ones to your memorial jewelry.

Each diamond is certified by an IGI USA gemologist before being returned to its forever home. Your loved one’s carbon is transformed into a truly one-of-a-kind gemstone to be worn and shared with your family for generations to come.

Honor Your Remarkable Loved Ones

As we take steps as a society towards an eco-friendly tomorrow, innovations like green burials make it possible to celebrate an exceptional life while continuing the work they did on Earth.

Perhaps the greatest gift that your deceased loved one can leave behind is a final act of compassion for the future of our planet and generations to come, or perhaps there’s another way you want to celebrate the incredible life your loved one lived.

No matter which form of post-life service you choose, your decision has been made with love and care for your remarkable loved one.

Sources:

Burial | The Smithsonian

Green Burial Defined | Green Burial Council

What is aquamation? The process behind Desmond Tutu’s ‘green cremation’ | Desmond Tutu | The Guardian

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