Information About Green Burials

January 14th, 2016

For centuries, we have taken care of our dead through burial. Although cremation is a popular alternative, burial remains the most common form of disposition. As we become more aware of and sensitive to the world around us, we are beginning to turn to more environmental friendly burials. If you are environmentally conscious, you may consider a green burial. Very few people know that it is an option, but when it is offered to them, there is often a great deal of interest. Phil Crawford, vice president of the Morley Bedford Funeral Home, in Toronto describes the typical thought process thusly: “They think, ‘Wow, that’s the way I lived. I was responsible in my lifetime, I recycled. I’ll do that in death as well.’” 

What is a green burial?

As the name suggests, a green burial is an environmentally friendly burial. Some of the ways they are considered green is the use of biodegradable coffins, forgoing embalming or choosing pesticide-free cemeteries to be interred in. The idea is quite simple. For centuries, or longer, people buried bodies as simply as possible, often even without a coffin. The body is a natural thing, so there is no logical reason not to let it return naturally to the earth. A green burial uses either shrouds or fully biodegradable caskets made of willow, sea grass, bamboo or other easily biodegradable or replaceable materials. If the body is embalmed, they do not use formaldehyde based chemicals. Instead a green embalming fluid is used which causes no harm to the earth and allows for viewing of the decedent. Headstones are almost non-existent, with native rocks and native plants used as markers instead.

According to the American Green Burial Council, the U.S. has 49 green cemeteries, while the U.K. has 300, many of which are separate from traditional cemeteries. In British Columbia there are currently only 2 cemeteries open to the public that provide for green burial. Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria is the only true green burial cemetery. Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver does a hybrid green burial. Mountain View is referred to as a hybrid only because the grounds are maintained and a standard grave maker is used. Royal Oak has a garden that is truly green. The garden is left in its natural state. Both cemeteries allow for just the body to be buried in a shroud, if the use of a green casket is not desired.

How to have a green burial

To start, you should use an all wood casket without metal hardware (most caskets typically use brass), that comes with a natural, biodegradable interior and bedding. Alternatively, request a biodegradable shroud. Use non-toxic, organic embalming fluid, or insist on none at all. One downside is that this may limit the viewing period because embalming with formaldehyde based chemicals slows the break down of the body.  Ask about using an indigenous rock or planting a shrub as a marker. If you would prefer cremation a biodegradable urn may be used. Finally, instead of flowers, request a donation to a land conservation organization.