Why Opt for a Green Burial? | jqwjhg.com

Why Opt for a Green Burial?

As moms, we focus a lot on births, but death isn’t something we talk a lot about. It’s not like we share death stories over coffee like we do our birth stories. And we certainly don’t talk about whether we want a traditional vs. green burial at playdates!

I recently shared that this past year I’ve been able to witness and support loved ones through both birth and death, and I was awed by the beauty in both. I came away with a strong feeling that while we stop inhabiting our bodies one day, the real self always remains.

Death is something we should be prepared for, though, whether it’s for our loved ones or for us. As our families age, we might have to navigate our parents’ or other family members’ last wishes. We can (and should) plan for our deaths as a way to share our end-of-life wishes with our families. Since I use products and processes that are lower in toxic load and better for the environment and future generations, I’m excited about these more eco-friendly options.

What Is a Traditional Burial?

A conventional burial involves several steps. First, the body is embalmed with formaldehyde to help preserve it and slow decomposition. Then it’s placed in a wooden or metal casket. Funeral services are the services held to honor the deceased at places of worship or funeral homes. Often a gravesite service is held at the burial site where the body is buried in a metal or concrete vault or plastic liner in a burial plot in a cemetery. And lastly, the grave is marked with a headstone.

Why Is Traditional Burial Harmful?

In a traditional burial, most of the materials used are not biodegradable. From the caskets with metal handles to the headstones to the concrete vaults, these things will not break down any time in our children’s future.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute conducted a survey of funeral industry workers’ health. They found that the worker’s exposure to the embalming fluid is toxic to their health. Those exposed to formaldehyde were more likely to get and die from leukemia and brain cancer the longer they worked in the industry.

In addition, in a 2022 report from Illness, Crisis, and Loss, they found that those same embalming chemicals also leach into the ground and can cause pollution. The leaching poses the biggest threat to marine life and possibly our drinking water. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act classifies formaldehyde as a highly toxic substance.

Traditional cemeteries also landscape their cemeteries, which involve fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, they use large amounts of water to keep the grounds looking green.

What Is a Green Burial?

Green burials are growing in popularity as people seek options that reflect the choices they’ve made to have a lower toxic, more natural life. The Green Burial Council, a nonprofit in the death care industry, defines a green burial as one that reduces environmental impact and works to conserve natural resources. It’s better for the environment by lessening the toxic load that traditional burials have. Green burials use non-toxic and biodegradable materials.

The benefits of a natural burial include:

  1. Less expensive – A traditional burial can cost between $7,000 and $12,000, including the funeral or memorial service. Green burials require fewer materials (caskets, embalming, etc.) and tend to be less expensive.
  2. Biodegradable products – Typical burial products are made from natural resources and aren’t biodegradable. With a natural burial, there isn’t a need for a casket made from exotic trees or metal. They also don’t use concrete burial vaults or plastic liners, which can take hundreds of years to decompose.
  3. Less toxic chemicals – Traditional burial chemicals are toxic to the environment and the workers who complete the work. In addition, traditional cemeteries often use pesticides and fertilizers to maintain their grounds, which increases pollution.
  4. Help promote land conservation – Traditional cemeteries don’t work to conserve or protect land and natural habitats. Natural burials often take place in areas that are carefully restored and maintained to preserve the natural areas where they occur.

Green Burial Options

Several green burial options are available depending on where you are and what your or your loved one’s wishes are. The costs of these options vary. While there are pros and cons to each, these are all more natural burial alternatives than the traditional burials we’re used to.


The first and probably most known option is cremation. It’s been used since ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, and possibly starting even earlier, around 3000 BCE.

For cremation, you still need a combustible container that the body can be placed in while it’s heated to anywhere between 1,800 and 2,000 degrees. After cremation, the family is given about 4-6 pounds of ashes. 

You can spread these ashes in a memorial forest, where you can buy a tree as your loved one’s final resting place. Another option is to spread the ashes at their favorite location or even your backyard (just be sure to check local laws and regulations first!). Or you can store the ashes in an urn in your home, or even do something creative with them, like having the ashes turned into jewelry! It costs around $1,000 – $3,000 for the process (not including any memorial service).

This option is available in all states and is easily accessible. One negative of this option is the emissions that can be put off from the process. Although it’s not a high amount of carbon dioxide (about the amount of a long road trip), there are other emissions, including mercury. The emissions from cremation are still less than the impact of traditional burials.


A newer natural burial option is aquamation, or water cremation. This process was started in an effort to process animal carcasses into fertilizer. In 2005, it became an option in America for humans and is currently available in about 22 states.

Like cremation, aquamation processes the body into a powder similar to ashes. Unlike cremation, it uses water and potassium hydroxide to break the body down. The body is heated to about 320 degrees, and at the end, you receive the “ashes” that remain. The average cost of aquamation is $2,000 – $3,000.

This process is a great option as it uses less electricity and releases less emissions. This makes it a good alternative for anyone searching for a less toxic burial option. A con is that it isn’t available in all states yet.

Human Composting

This is one of the cleanest green burial options available. Currently, it’s only available in seven states in America (Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California, New York, and Nevada). However, this new option is gaining popularity and is slowly becoming legal in other states.

Just like it sounds, the body is broken down into compost. Similar to the process you’d use to make compost for your garden, this option is good for those who want to have a more natural burial. The body is put into a vessel with natural materials that help it decompose (straw, wood, alfalfa) until microbes break the body down. 

This process can take 30-60 days. When it’s complete, the family is given a portion of the soil that they can use to spread or plant (just don’t use it in your vegetable garden). The cost of composting is about $2,500 – $5,000.

The one con for this option is that it’s the least available. But as other states adopt human composting, it’ll become more widely available.

Green Cemetery

Another new option in the burial offerings is green burial cemeteries. Green cemeteries aren’t available in every state. These are conventional cemeteries that use concrete vaults and traditional embalming but biodegradable containers.

In these resting places, there are no embalming or concrete vaults, and bodies are buried in a biodegradable casket or shroud. These cemeteries often offer more natural surroundings with native plants and even wildflowers. They allow nature to exist as it does in the wild, instead of traditional landscaping that uses fertilizers or pesticides. They can sometimes look and feel more like a nature preserve.

These natural burial grounds are often involved in land conservation and sustainability. Some are run by nonprofit groups that want to bring more natural practices to the funeral industry. The Green Burial Council offers certification for green burial practitioners, including green cemeteries, funeral homes, and product providers. Their website offers a list of certified natural cemeteries that meet their standards.

One con for this option is that there aren’t a lot of green cemeteries yet. Hopefully, that will change as the demand for more natural burial options continues to grow.

What Is a Green Funeral?

Traditional funerals are held at places of worship or funeral homes, often with a body present in a casket. With a green burial, there’s often no casket (in the case of aquamation or human composting and sometimes in cremation). Traditional funerals also often have lots of plastic flowers and a headstone at the burial site. Green funerals don’t have flowers or a headstone at the burial plot, if there is one. The footprint of the funeral is much less with a green funeral vs. a traditional funeral.

Green funerals could even include more creative options like a home service or a gathering of family and friends to share a meal. Or if you opt for cremation, a green funeral could involve a gathering at a special place where you want your ashes spread.

When Green Burial Might Not Be an Option

One hesitation you might have about green burials is if you want to view the body at the funeral or memorial service. Although traditional burials offer embalming to preserve the body, a green burial does not. But this doesn’t mean you can’t still have a viewing. You aren’t required by law to embalm a body, but many funeral homes will not allow a viewing without it. 

However, if the funeral home will allow it or you opt for a home viewing, you can keep the body preserved with dry ice or refrigeration for 2-3 days. It’s best to check with your local regulations if a viewing is an important part of your end-of-life wishes.

Another FAQ about green burial is what if the body has to be transported across state lines? If your loved one has died in another state, you can usually transport it to your home state for burial. A few states require you to have a body embalmed before crossing state lines. If you are required to embalm the body, you probably won’t be able to have a burial in a green cemetery or do human composting. You can still have the body cremated or processed with aquamation.

Why Planning for Death Is Important

You may wonder why this is important. It’s not an easy thing to think and talk about, especially when we’re considering our own death. But planning for the future is important, and that includes planning for death.

If you strive to live in a non-toxic, natural way and also want to help the environment for our children’s future, you can carry those preferences over to your death plans. This allows you to leave a legacy of a more natural life and death.

Planning for death is one of the best gifts you can give your loved ones because you take all the guesswork out of what you want to happen at a very emotional time. It makes it easy for them to simply follow your end-of-life wishes instead of having to guess what you’d like. It’s also a statement of how important a nontoxic life (and death) are to you and your family.

Another important thing you can do is have these conversations with your family and loved ones to see what their wishes might be for end-of-life. Then you don’t have to guess what’s important to them. Sharing these alternative options with them might help them realize that there are other healthier options to traditional burials.

Have you planned for your or a loved one’s death? What natural burial alternatives seem the most interesting to you?



Related articles

Natural Tile and Grout Cleaner

Making the switch to homemade grout cleaner and natural...

DIY Buckwheat Relaxation Pillows

We’ve switched to organic bedding, but organic pillows can be...

How to Make (and Use) Vegetable Noodles

Veggie noodles are an awesome alternative to pasta —...

Christmas Gifts for Her (45+ Ideas She’ll Love!)

As a mom, I’ve been given plenty of gifts over...

Christmas Gifts for Kids (With Stocking Stuffer Ideas)

At Christmas time our family focuses on the joy of...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here