People across the world have developed different ways to send off their loved ones, with the majority embracing traditional burial and cremation ceremonies. Though it’s not likely to be discussed at a funeral, both of these popular methods pose devastating effects on the environment. Amidst rising concerns amongst environmentalists, and indeed the increasing awareness and adopters of eco-friendly practices, opting for a ‘Green Burial’ is being favored as a more considerate way to make their last act on earth a kind one.
Broadly speaking, having a green funeral or natural burial means that throughout the process, environmentally-friendly practices will be prioritised. The options are endless, and it all depends on how far one is willing to go green upon death.
Environmental considerations of traditional ceremonies
Traditional burial is arguably the most harmful from an environmental perspective. Per annum, casket burials and the associated materials use thousands of trees, hundreds of thousands of tons of steel and millions of tons of concrete. Similarly, embalming is a major source of groundwater pollution, with concerns that some of the highly carcinogenic embalming fluid eventually leaks into the earth, polluting water and soil.
Whilst cremation has less impact than a traditional burial, it still has a significant carbon footprint as cremations use considerable amounts of energy in the form of gas and electricity. They furthermore release harmful gases into the environment such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, heavy metals and other particles.
Eco-friendly burial options
Not only does an eco-friendly funeral have less impact on the environment but it also offers a more natural outdoor setting for the memorial service. There are varying degrees of “green” burials when it comes to environmentally conscious funerals.
Natural or woodland burials
A natural burial returns a body to the earth in as organic a way as possible. This generally takes place in green spaces, such as wildflower meadows, or protected woodland and parkland areas, which can be more pleasant locations to commemorate a loved one. Surrounded by such natural beauty, woodland burial sites are a memorable and sustainable alternative to traditional burials and cremations.
With a choice of a burial plot set amongst trees and wildflowers, or the scattering of ashes in a forest, meadow or orchard, family members and friends often take comfort in the idea of returning their loved one to the Earth.
A woodland burial aims not only to minimise our impact on the environment, but preserve and even assist nature. Natural memorials, such as plants or trees, are welcomed. At green burial sites, you’ll often find a natural stone marker; some locations allow you to plant a tree or a shrub to mark a burial spot. While embalming is not permitted – the chemicals can be harmful to plants and wildlife – the deceased are carefully washed, dressed and prepared.
Coffins can be made in a number of natural materials – willow, banana leaf, pandanus, bamboo and even cardboard. The body may be wrapped in a simple shroud instead made from a number of biodegradable materials, including unbleached cotton fabric, linen, muslin, felted wool, hemp or bamboo.
Going green doesn’t mean you can’t make the coffin personal and beautiful. Celebrate your loved one by laying fresh flowers, greenery or fallen leaves atop the casket or weaving directly into the casket if the material permits. Alternatively get creative and decorate the outside with quotes, patterns or messages using environmentally-friendly paints or pens.
For traditional floral tributes, our florists can supply eco-friendly options.
Green the funeral service
In addition to how the body is prepared for burial, you could also consider making the funeral service environmentally friendly. Some ideas include the use of recycled paper for programmes or hymn sheets, encouraging mourners to carpool to and from the funeral, and sourcing flowers from organic, local growers. You can ensure that the food and refreshments are eco-friendly. You can also ask friends not to bring flowers but instead use other alternatives like donating to an eco-friendly charity.
Death is a painful experience, but it can be comforting to know that the death helps lessen the negative environmental impacts.
Eco-friendly funerals will be new to many, so select a funeral home with an experienced team to guide you through all the options and find sustainable ways to realising your vision of the day. Ensure too, to share your vision and clear intentions with your loved ones, as they will be the ones to actualise your burial wishes.