Green Burials 101

2 min Article Rituals & Ceremonies
Learn about this environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional burials.
Green Burials 101

What Is Green Burial? 

In green burial, or natural burial, a corpse is placed in the ground with the lowest possible impact on the environment. 

The usual suspects that negatively impact the earth with traditional burial include embalming, caskets made from non-biodegradable materials, and concrete vaults that are placed in the earth surrounding the casket to slow decay and to protect the casket from damage. Why, once in the ground, does slow decay or an undamaged casket matter? Great question.


When a body is embalmed to slow its decay so loved ones may view the body, it is filled with a mix of toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, methanol, and phenol. Some of these chemicals present significant health risks, like cancer, to the people in the funeral industry who are continually exposed to them. These chemicals also seep into our ground water and spread far and wide.

When you choose green burial, you choose to have zero toxic chemicals involved in corpse care. Loved ones are still able to view the body in a reasonable amount of time when the body is kept chilled.

Casket Shopping

If you want a green burial, choose a casket made from a renewable resource, sustainably harvested, that biodegrades easily, has no toxins, and has had to travel as few miles as possible to reach you. Even consider what the inner lining is made of — is it organic?

Most caskets in the U.S. are made of steel and lined with velvet or taffeta. Many wooden options are treated with chemicals that put toxins into our soil and ground water. It is important to ask clear and specific questions about the materials a casket is made from to avoid companies who "greenwash". Greenwashing is the process of giving misleading information about how and from what products are made to seem environmentally safe when they in fact are not. 

Caskets made of toxin-free cardboard, pine, seagrass, bamboo, or willow are some of the go-to types for green burial. You may also simply choose an organic shroud to wrap the body in with no casket. 

Halt the Vaults

Right now, we are putting around 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete into the earth every year to surround the caskets in which our dead lay. It takes little reflection to arrive at the conclusion that this is not a sound idea.  Some say the concrete is necessary to keep the ground level for mowers or walking in the cemetery. It seems reasonable to fill in sunken ground with a little more dirt rather than implant this much concrete in our soil. Some say the concrete is necessary to slow decay. Again, why are we slowing decay once a body is buried?

Plan a Green Burial 

The Green Burial Council is an excellent resource to learn what is available in your state and have most any question answered.  If you're interested, go to their site, choose "Find GBC Providers," choose one close to your home, and give them a call to start planning. 


Header photo: Frappo via Unsplash