Eco-Friendly Burial Arrangements
What is it? There are a lot of buzzwords going around - “green burial,” “greener death,” “natural burial,” and “eco-friendly disposition.” Maybe you’ve always been an environmentalist at heart. Maybe you want to avoid excess or extravagance and wish instead to leave the world in good shape for many generations to come. If you’re reading this, you’re willing to at least consider choosing an environmentally friendly burial.
What should I be aware of? At the end of the day, when you make a burial choice and want to prioritize eco-friendliness, then you want to think about your choice’s carbon footprint, its materials, and its logistics. Having a small total carbon footprint is good - think about the manufacturing and/or shipping involved. You don’t want something with an energy-intensive manufacturing process involving lots of chemicals and non-local materials being shipped from far away. Using easily biodegradable materials is good. And choosing something that is actually available in your area and fits in the space you have (i.e. your gravesite of choice) is good. Also consider to what degree, if any, decorating and customization is important to you and your family - some options are easier to adorn than others. What follows are some options.
The Plain Jane Wood Box - Okay, okay, it’s a “casket” not just a box. But you get the idea - this puppy has nothing extra. It’s made of plain solid wood such as pine, with no varnish, glue, or metal. The wood should not be exotic and should be sustainably sourced. You can add lining or padding as long as the material is unadulterated, e.g. natural, unbleached wool fiber.
The Cardboard Box - Okay, so this one is sometimes called a “green container,” and no one is calling it just a “box.” It is a “casket” after all. Pay attention to the weight guidelines for your particular cardboard casket so as not to exceed them. Consider additional straps for lifting, and/or a backing board* for added sturdiness.
The Woven Box - Again, it’s a “casket” not a mere “box.” These are constructed of flexible weaving material - usually willow, bamboo, or wicker - but sometimes sugar cane or banana leaves. Other natural fibers (e.g. seagrass) may be used for decoration. Picture an old-school picnic basket, only of vastly different dimensions.
The Big Sheet - So this one is called a “burial shroud” not a mere “sheet.” Use an unbleached fabric such as cotton, muslin, linen, silk, felted wool, bamboo, or hemp. Because post mortem bodily changes can cause liquid to escape from and/or accumulate in the body, you may want to consider the absorbency of your selection. For the purpose of lowering a body into a grave, a backing board* will be necessary. While a traditional burial shroud is wrapped around the body, newer concepts involve a wearable suit.
Be-A-Tree - This one is actually called the “tree pod” option, though my name is clever too, right? Up front, I want to say that this concept is not available in North America right now. The idea is beautiful - a human body is placed in an egg-shaped biodegradable pod and a tree is planted above it. However, since this concept requires more space than a traditional American burial plot per person, it has not moved into the prototype phase yet.
Embalming-Free Burial - A lot of the options above already avoid embalming, but just to make it clear I’ve included this bullet. Traditional embalming involves hazardous chemicals (i.e. formaldehyde) and is not necessary for burial. Alternatives are asking for dry ice or Techni-ice, or a refrigeration unit. If embalming is important to you, you could ask for a nontoxic embalming agent.
If I want this, what do I do next? You should include your wishes as part of your estate plan. This will spare your loved ones the agony of trying to guess what you would’ve wanted. Do your research so you know what options are readily available in your area. And make sure that, if you have a specific burial ground in mind, they will accept your option.