The funeral industry is to looking into more Earth-friendly ways to care for the dead. Three categories of green services are currently discussed in the industry: green funerals, green burials and cremation.
A Green Funeral requires two elements: no embalming and a biodegradable casket.
A Green Burial is a burial of an unembalmed body in a biodegradable casket without a burial vault or a grave liner.
Cremation is the act of reducing a corpse by burning, generally in a crematorium furnace or crematory fire. The remains (often called cremains) are not "ashes" in the usual sense. They are dried bone fragments that have been pulverized in a device called a cremulator. Cremains, which are not a health risk, may be buried or immured in memorial sites or cemeteries, or they may be legally retained by relatives or dispersed in a variety of ways to a variety of locations. Cremation certainly uses far fewer resources than traditional burial, but it has its issues. The biggest is that it burns fossil fuel.
No Embalming - in green funerals, the body is preserved for viewing through refrigeration and the use of dry ice. Though the Environmental Protection Agency regards formaldehyde as a "probable" carcinogen, other international agencies, including the World Health Organization, consider it a far more dangerous chemical. Embalming fluid containing formaldehyde has the potential to seep into ground water. Embalming is unnecessary for viewing and provides no public health benefits.
Green & Biodegradable Caskets can be made of plain wood, cardboard or a form of papier mache. Click here to find our listing of companies providing biodegradable caskets.
Burial Vaults or Grave Liners. A vault is essentially a large box made of concrete. Originally developed to deter grave robbers in the late 18th century, vaults are sold today as necessary to keep the ground from sinking and markers from moving. No state or federal laws require use of a vault, though a cemetery can insist that one be used. Americans annually bury 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete in the form of vaults.
Green Cemeteries are cemeteries dedicated to green burial. These cemeteries do not allow embalmed bodies or burial vaults. All caskets must be biodegradable. Other restrictions on grave markers and native plants are being discussed. The nonprofit Green Burial Council offers a list of "approved providers" who facilitate green burial within conventional cemeteries in eight states.
Home Funerals are funerals that take place in a private home, not a funeral home. The body is preserved through the use of dry ice. Family members wash and care for the deceased's body. Home funeral providers, sometimes called "death doulas," offer assistance to families much like midwives assist in the birthing process. Since bodies are typically preserved with dry ice, home funerals are more ecologically sound than those that use embalming.
Home Burials are burials on private land. Information and advice on how to be buried on your own land can be found at www.GreenBurialCouncil.org.
The Green Burial Council has developed standards and a certification program for green funerals, green burial, green cemeteries and green funeral products. Visit their website at www.GreenBurialCouncil.org.
Natural End (TM) Network has a list of providers who have pledged to follow natural funeral practices. Visit their website at www.naturalend.com.