Green Burials

Ben Franklin said, “The only thing certain is death and taxes.” You can pay taxes on line and save paper, making it greener, but how about green burials? 

Writing about burials is a morbid topic, but nevertheless a fact of life and a subject we don’t usually think about in terms of going green. There is a movement afoot called Green or Natural Burials where the interment of bodies is done in a an affordable bio-degradable casket such as recycled cardboard, recycled newspaper, or bamboo, or simply covered with a shroud or favorite blanket and then buried in a site as natural as possible.  No embalming fluid is used or concrete vault.  During embalming, bodies are injected with formaldehyde (listed by the EPA as a “probable human carcinogen”), more than 5,300,000 gallons of which are lowered into US soil each year.  Concrete is one of the most energy-intensive industrial materials.  According to Joe Sehee, executive director of the Green Burial Council, "We bury enough embalming fluid to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools, enough metal to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and so much reinforced concrete in burial vaults that we could build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit."  Natural burials are clearly a greener and cheaper alternative.

A green burial is also an alternative to cremation, which many families choose because it is less expensive and thought to be more environmentally friendly. Though fewer materials are used in the making of an urn than a casket, (some companies now offer biodegradable urns), a single cremation requires that a furnace run at about 1800 degrees for two to three hours producing about 880 pounds of carbon dioxide.  In terms of carbon emissions, one cremation equals 500 miles in a car.   Additionally, mercury tooth fillings that aren’t removed may leach toxic mercury into the air.

It’s encouraging to watch the green movement grow to even include our return to the earth done in a gentle, natural way with little impact.  For information on green cemeteries, go to

Information compiled from “Burials and Cemeteries Go Green” by Cheryl Corley,, and “The Green Reaper”, by Sarah Murray, June 2012.

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