What is green burial?
Green burial (also called natural burial) is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that furthers legitimate ecological aims such as the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat. Its main requirements are that caskets or burial shrouds must be biodegradable, toxic embalming fluids—such as those containing formaldehyde—are prohibited, and burial vaults are not used. In addition, most green cemeteries require grave markers, if used, to be made of local natural materials like local stone or wood.
Is natural (green) burial legal?
Yes. Most of what you may think of as laws are either rules of individual cemeteries or common practices assumed to be legal requirements. There is no law that a burial vault must be used, but many cemeteries require them for ease of lawn maintenance and closer spacing of graves. Embalming is only required under rare circumstances such as death from cholera.
Since burial vaults are made from concrete shouldn’t they be considered green?
While the concrete and metal in vaults may be considered “natural” to some, the manufacturing and transporting of vaults uses a tremendous amount of energy and causes enormous carbon emission. In the US, vault manufacturing requires the production of 1.6 tons of reinforced concrete.
Will animals disturb the gravesites?
No. Green burial is one of the oldest methods for eliminating the odors from decomposing organic materials. It has been shown that only 12 inches of soil is needed to prevent animals from digging into graves. Ramsey Creek, a natural burial cemetery in South Carolina started in 1996, has a wild boar population as well as black bears and they have never experienced any problems. This is one of those myths popular in scary stories. Nature preserve cemeteries throughout the United States have not experienced animals disturbing graves in any way. Pioneers buried in cemeteries near wilderness areas did not experience grave disturbances from animals, even with relatively shallow graves.
Will a natural burial cemetery hurt water quality?
No. Because green cemeteries don’t have run-off of fertilizers, spilled fuels or toxins, natural burial land produces cleaner water than urban, suburban, or agricultural areas. Soil is a remarkably good filter. Products of decomposition are contained and don’t leak into the water table. The forest and meadow watershed at Penn Forest will provide safe, clean water for the Plum Creek and the Allegheny River. This is not the case with conventional cemeteries, since burial vaults have drains, they do not retain toxic materials, such as formaldehyde, which flow out of the cemetery and into the watershed.
Can families have a viewing if the body is not embalmed?
Yes. We offer all families the opportunity to view the decreased. Embalming is only necessary if there is a lengthy delay between the time of death and the burial.
Can I have a Marker or Monument in the Cemetery, if I choose a Green Burial?
Cobourg Union Cemetery’s regulations do not allow for markers or monuments in the eco-friendly, Green Section. There is a common marker where the names of those buried in this section of the cemetery are listed.
The Green section is eco-friendly and is left in its natural state.
Are there any regulations regarding green burials that people should be aware of
Yes. This section of the cemetery only allows containers or shrouds without toxic finishes or washes. Only non-toxic, non-formaldehyde, embalming is allowed.
The Green section is kept in its natural state. The grass is not cut like other cemeteries. All graves are dug by hand, by cemetery staff. No backhoe or mechanical shovels are used.
For those who want a more earth-friendly funeral, what things should be considered?
If you want to be more eco-friendly, think less extravagantly. Rather than fresh-cut flowers, choose a plant that can be replanted. Sustainability, it seems, can be practiced in all aspects of one’s life-including death.
Do keep in mind — the concept of a green burial is not a new idea. It is the oldest and most natural form of interment. And back in the day, the body was always kept at home.
A home funeral can encompass a memorial service, wake, viewing or a combination of the three. It’s also an intimate experience: friends or family members might help wash and dress the body, build or decorate a casket, plan a memorial service or accompany the deceased to the burial site or crematory.
What tips can you offer to plan a green burial?
When families come to see me about picking out an urn for their loved one’s cremains, we first suggest they take a look around their home and see if they have something that the deceased person loved, or something that would represent them. If not, do they have a family member or friend who would be comfortable making an urn?
We highly encourage taking it to an individual level. A green burial can truly be a DIY project. Have everyone get involved. We love the idea of personalization. Paint or draw on the burial apparatus with a non-toxic implement. Bury your loved one on your own land if state and county rules permit. And consider leaving a living marker. This means planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers on or near the grave.