Your Guide to Greener Funerals

A beautiful low impact wicker coffinA traditional funeral can be a tremendous hassle and a major planning challenge – as well as a very expensive affair. From embalming to purchasing a coffin and a funeral plot, you have to make a series of difficult and pricey decisions in order to take care of the dearly departed.

The gatherings and rituals associated with laying a loved one to rest are expensive as well, obliging you to rent space and pay for services ranging from religious rites to catering.

For some people, all of these challenges are well worth the hassle as long as they honour the departed fittingly and result in a permanent memorial to them. There are a growing number of individuals who are coming to view traditional funeral rites as too expensive and burdensome – not only in a financial sense but in an environmental one, too.

Looking for a cheaper, more environmentally-friendly way to lay your loved ones to rest? Consider the alternative of the green funeral.

Green Funerals Defined

The Green Burial Council is an advocacy group that shares a considerable number of helpful resources with those who are interested in environmentally-friendly funeral arrangements. According to the Council, the key points that make a funeral “green” are the absence of formaldehyde embalming, metal caskets, and concrete burial vaults.

The form of burial being discussed here was actually the norm for the vast majority of human history; it’s only since the late 19th century that standards have veered towards less-sustainable funerary choices. A properly-executed green burial doesn’t just conserve resources; it can also be a vehicle for ecological restoration and small-scale conservation.

Green funerals are also called “eco-friendly” or “natural” burials. The key advantages offered by going green include:

* Reduction of environmental contamination by omitting formaldehyde embalming from the process. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can easily, according to the EPA, contaminate ground water. Thanks to conventional burials, roughly one million gallons of formaldehyde are interred in the ground every year.

A coffin goes into the furnace as it starts the cremation process* Cremation is another burial strategy that does environmental damage. Cremation releases a host of different toxins into the atmosphere, especially when the coffin is burned along with the body. Potential contaminants spread by cremation include the mercury in dental fillings and other harmful metals. Even if cremation is the chosen way of disposing of the body, its ecological impact can be reduced by using eco-friendly coffins – typically made of jute, bamboo, cardboard, and other sustainable materials.

* Green burials make use of shallower graves and more natural markers – wildflowers or natural rocks as opposed to gravestones. In an interview with NPR, Mark Harris (author of Grave Matters, a book on the rise of natural burial practices in the modern funeral industry) estimated that in a 10-acre cemetery, coffins account for enough wood to construct 40 family homes. The concrete used for burial vaults would be sufficient to ensure that each of those houses had an in-ground swimming pool, too.

* There are legal provisions in place for private funerals (not directed by funeral homes) in almost every state in the US and in Australia. If you’re interested in green burial options, make sure you check your local regulations to see what’s allowed. If you intend to bury a loved one on your own property, for example, you may have to meet a minimum acreage requirement.

More Affordable, More Sustainable Caskets

The enormous price of a traditional coffin is one of the biggest expenses involved in a funeral – and, it turns out, one of the least necessary. Here are some less expensive options:

* The Green Casket Company

This firm offers completely biodegradable caskets built out of sustainable wood harvested close to the company’s base in South Carolina. The company’s coffins are made from toxin, metal, preservative, and stain-free pine. The Green Casket Company offers their products in a range of three sizes to suit every customer.

* Lunen Handicraft

This company based in Heze, China is dedicated to meeting the current consumer demand for sustainable burial options. It sells caskets crafted from a range of materials including bamboo, wicker, corn skin, and seagrass. Note that shipping a casket from China to the US or Australia will drive up the cost of your funeral and increase its carbon footprint.

* WideBuy Caskets

WiseBuy has partnered with Amish craftsmen in Indiana to offer coffins that are completely free of stains, varnishes, plastics, and animal byproducts. The company offers a range of coffins that strike an excellent balance between style and economy, and they even sell child-sized caskets.

Being burial in nature in a secluded forest* Cardboardcasket

The company name tells you most of what you need to know here. The company’s “Minimum Casket No. 1601” is currently the cheapest coffin for sale today, coming in at just $49.95. Cardboard caskets are fully biodegradable and typically designed for easy slot-and-tab assembly.

Opting for a green funeral is an excellent way to reduce both the cost and environmental impact of saying goodbye to a loved one. Speak to local funeral companies and search online for reviews of funeral directors in Melbourne before you make your choice about environmentally-friendly burial options. Green burial specialists can also provide useful guidance if you’re considering laying your relative to rest in an unconventional place, like a forest.