Eco-friendly burial options 

3 min read

Green burial practices and considerations

  • In order to avoid putting chemicals into the ground, green burial doesn’t use embalming, or uses natural embalming options.

  • Vaults and grave liners are not used so that the land is minimally disrupted.

  • Caskets and urns are made from biodegradable and sustainable materials, or not used at all.

  • Headstones are often replaced with simple stones, plants, or GPS units.

  • Some people opt to bury in places that support land conservation efforts.

  • These are guidelines; it is common for families to create hybrid burials by selecting some of these practices.

If you are concerned about environmental issues, or if your loved one was eco-conscious, you may be interested in choosing an end-of-life option that is less harmful to the planet. Traditional burials involving embalming chemicals, caskets, and concrete vaults are massively disruptive to the local ecosystem. The materials used also often have a huge carbon footprint, with very involved production chains, and take ages to break down.

As an alternative, increasing numbers of people are deciding to go with “green burials.” According to the Green Burial Council, this option does away with embalming, liners, and vaults, instead using biodegradable containers to let nature do the work. The concept is not particularly new, but more and more funeral homes across the US are beginning to offer or accommodate green burials.

There are a number of reasons why a family or individual might opt for a green burial—whether out of care for local ecosystems, a desire to return to nature, or simply cost-effectiveness. By understanding the common elements and practices of a green burial, you can decide if this is the right option for your loved one and your family. 

Green burial practices

It’s important to note that though there are common guidelines for a green burial, you are under no obligation to commit to all of them. Hybrid burials are common, in which people choose to incorporate only some of the eco-friendly options and keep some traditional practices. 

There are several main hallmarks of a green burial. The body is generally prepared with no embalming at all, or with alternative non-toxic chemical solutions. There is no concrete vault or grave liner, and the plot maintained using sustainable practices, including no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. The casket is made of biodegradable wood, bamboo, or cardboard, or there is no casket at all, replaced by a simple shroud. Instead of a headstone, many people opt to mark the grave with simple stones, plants or shrubs, or even a GPS unit. In addition, families can choose a burial on land protected by a land trust entity in order to support conservation.

Again, how green the burial is and how many of these practices are adopted is up to you and your family. The service or ceremony can resemble a traditional burial, or it can involve practices specific to green funerals, such as having guests plant various types of plants, flowers, and shrubs on the gravesite.

Types of green final resting places

Many funeral homes offer green options, and can arrange for your loved one to be put to rest either using ecological practices in a traditional cemetery or in a cemetery that is entirely green. If you are interested in a burial that supports land conservation, ask your funeral home or a local green cemetery if there are options nearby, or contact the Conservation Burial Alliance.

There are over 150 green cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada, according to the New York Times, and different ones offer different burial options. Speak to your funeral director or a representative at the cemetery to see which options work best for you, your family, and your loved one’s wishes. Green cemeteries will offer all of the practices outlined above. In addition, many will have other options such as converting your loved one’s body or ashes into nutrients for a tree that will grow in their memory.

There are a number of reasons why a family or individual might opt for a green burial—whether out of care for local ecosystems, a desire to return to nature, or simply cost-effectiveness.

If your loved one had a deep connection with the sea, then instead of considering a green land burial you may want to look into a company that offers ”reef burial.” In this practice, a loved one’s cremated remains are mixed into an environmentally safe concrete mixture in order to create an artificial reef formation. This reef is placed on the ocean floor to create a new marine habitat for fish and other forms of sea life. 

When it comes to deciding on a green burial, only you will know what is right for your loved one. If they loved the natural world or expressed a desire to be returned to nature, there are some really beautiful and meaningful practices for your family to explore.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.