The concept of a green burial has been around for thousands of years, but most people in North America are unfamiliar with the concept because they are used to the “traditional” way of burial. However, what we consider traditional is in reality a modern concept. Metal and hardwood caskets, burial vaults, elaborate headstones, and other funeral products are new traditions formed in the past hundreds of years. Simple natural burials with a basic casket have been practiced for thousands of years.
Today, traditional burials are perhaps the most commonly practiced burial method around the world. In this process, bodies are first embalmed using a solution that is made up of formaldehyde, ethanol, and water. The purpose of embalming is primarily to delay the process of decomposition long enough so that the living who are left behind are given a chance to pay their respects and say their goodbyes to the dearly departed. After the ceremonies are held, the body is then buried and left in peace.
What people do not realize is that a traditional burial actually has effects on the environment that can be detrimental. The most troublesome aspect of this method is the use of formaldehyde for embalming. Formaldehyde can easily contaminate soil or water as it breaks down. Furthermore, it is suspected to be a carcinogen, which could potentially cause cancer for anyone who comes in contact with it. In a green burial the body is buried naturally without the use of any embalming chemicals.
Another environmental issue is the use of non-biodegradable caskets, which not only use up a significant amount of the earth’s resources, but also take up substantial areas of land. A green burial uses a casket made of biodegradable renewable material, or recyclable material. The casket could be made of bamboo, wicker, cardboard, or instead of a casket a burial shroud may be used. In a green funeral the casket is simpler in design because the goal is to use less materials.
Another negative of a traditional burial is the use of a vault. The casket is placed within a burial vault in the cemetery to prevent the ground above from caving in. The problem is that the vault disturbs the local environment and uses natural resources in its manufacturing. A green burial does not require the use of a vault because the body is buried directly in the ground. However, to bury a body without a vault, it must take place at a natural burial ground that is setup for this type of burial.
In the wake of these issues, the concept of a natural or green burial is becoming more popular. The idea is to allow the body to recycle naturally and to promote sustainability and ecological restoration. Along with the numerous environmental benefits, green burials are also less expensive, which makes them a popular choice no matter how much of an environmentalist you are.
If you are considering a green burial for a loved one, read our other articles below to learn more about natural burials and green funerals.
Updated: May 15, 2013