As concerns about the environment continue to grow, some people now opt for what is known as a green funeral. In short, green funerals seek to have as little impact on the environment as possible.
Those who desire green funerals can make arrangements with funeral homes in advance and some funeral homes even have the special designation of being certified as a green funeral provider by the Green Burial Council. The council, founded in 2005, is a non-profit organization that has worked to set standards for green burial and certifies funeral homes that meet those standards.
In some cases, a person might just have left written instructions stating they want a green funeral but not have any formal arrangements made or specifics detailed. In that case, if you are executor the task of planning a green funeral – or at least making sure one is arranged – could be yours.
Typically the first thing to know is that a green funeral calls for embalming, metal caskets and cement burial vaults – all commonplace these days – to be avoided.
When embalmed, the body’s blood is drained and replaced with formaldehyde-based preservatives. This is done to delay decomposition so that viewings and funeral services can be held. Since a green funeral calls for toxic chemicals to be avoided and for the body to be left in a state that will allow it to decompose quickly, embalming is discouraged.
When it comes to preparing the body for burial, the deceased can be wrapped in cloth or placed in a coffin made from easily biodegradable materials such as pine, rattan, cardboard, etc. If buried, as little ground as possible should be disturbed and any trees removed should be replaced with new trees. Grave markers should be simple, flat headstones or, better yet, a tree or shrub.
While cremation does cause air pollution, it can still be part of what is considered a green funeral. Cremation is not ideal, but still has less environmental impact that a conventional burial. Plus, many crematoriums are now adding filters to remove toxins from the smoke that results from cremation.
To help accommodate those wanting a green funeral, natural cemeteries are becoming more commonplace. These locations do not require concrete vaults to surround a casket and/or body and typically feature an area that is more densely covered in trees, shrubs and natural growth than a traditional cemetery with grassy lawns. Another option is scattering a person’s cremated remains at sea or on land. Keep in mind, laws sometimes restrict where ashes can be scattered. It is wise to check with a local funeral director or municipality first.
As far as having green funeral services, you can limit damage to the environment in additional ways, as well. Consider requesting memorial contributions in lieu of flowers and plants. Ask that any programs, hymn sheets, remembrance cards, etc., are printed on recycled paper. If you do choose to have some flowers, pick those from local, organic growers to cut down on pollution from transportation and chemicals. If a funeral procession is called for, ask guests to carpool to save on fuel emissions. If refreshments will be offered, once again choose local, organic food.
Keep in mind that some of these might not be the normal requests that are made to funeral directors or the style of funeral services loved ones are used to seeing. But funeral directors are interested in providing you the service the deceased wanted. And those attending services likely will be happy that their loved one’s wishes were followed.