A very large percentage of Americans have a funeral followed by an in-ground burial when they die. Approximately 43.5 percent of Americans choose burial as their preferred method for what happens to their body after death.
As more information about environmental effects of burials is unearthed, some Americans who are choosing to be buried are choosing to go green with the process. Often called a green funeral or green burial, here’s a look into what you need to know about how you can make your end-of-life plans more eco-conscious– it aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.
The Carbon Footprint of a Traditional Burial
The environmental effects of a burial probably aren’t something a person has given much thought to, especially in the midst of mourning.
Traditional burials take a toll on the earth. An article in Business Insider reports that about 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde are put into the ground every year in the United States as a result of American burials, and that the amount of casket wood used alone in a single year is equivalent to four million acres of forest that could otherwise remain intact, or be used to construct about 4.5 million homes. The use of embalming fluids, concrete vaults, and non-biodegradable burial containers, combined with the destruction of natural resources, all contribute to the environmental problem.
How Can a Burial Be ‘Green?’
Some people are choosing to donate their bodies to science or research. However, if burial is important to you for religious or other personal reasons, there are options for being buried in a more sustainable way.
A Natural, or Green, burial is the interment of the body of a dead person in the soil in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition but allows the body to recycle naturally. It is an alternative to other contemporary Western burial methods and funerary customs.
An article in The New York Times cites the Green Burial Council, which is a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable death care. Some of the different options the council suggests for making a burial more eco-conscious are:
- Choose biodegradable materials for a coffin or burial container – Cement, steel, and other non-natural materials can be damaging for the earth. Some people may even choose a simple cotton shroud.
- Skip the embalming chemicals – Many people are under the illusion that embalming a body is necessary, but it’s not. You can skip this step and keep the body cool for a funeral and viewing service using refrigeration, or even bringing the body home and keeping it cool with fans.
- Cremation uses far fewer resources than almost any other disposition option but it still has an environmental impact. Cremation burns fossil fuels, and some older cremation facilities can use significantly more energy compared to newer ones. Mercury is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, but effective filtration devices that can fully mitigate mercury pollution should come on the market in the very near future. While no standards yet exist that allow consumers to determine which cremation retorts produce the most pollution and carbon emissions, there are several things that can be done to “green” cremation such as recycling medical parts, and making a contribution to a carbon fund.
- Coffins made from cardboard, bamboo, or jute; the use of shrouds, or biodegradable urns are all dignified ways to unite with nature more rapidly.
- Make small changes where they work for you – this might include choosing a green cemetery, choosing locally-sourced materials for a coffin or burial site, foregoing a headstone, or even minimizing other funeral norms, like the use of flowers or the expense of new clothes.
Start Planning Today
If being eco-conscious is something that’s important to you, a green funeral may be something you’re interested in learning more about. Start the process of planning your funeral now – pre-planning is a gift to the family left behind grieving your loss.
Be sure to discuss funeral arrangements with your family about this concept well in advance. Death is often a difficult process and your family members may not think to consider the environment in making arrangements. Even if they do, they may not have a grasp on what are the best and greenest courses of action to take. To further enforce this, prepare a Final Disposition document which is an advanced funeral wishes directive that stipulates your green funeral concerns. The Law Offices of Patricia Bloom-McDonald, offers experienced end-of-life planning and can help you create a plan for your funeral and burial that meets your wishes. Call our Massachusetts attorney today for an initial no-cost consultation.