As it becomes more normal to limit our carbon footprint and use care with toxic chemicals, the funeral business is also adapting. Many are going back to what was considered normal before the embalming process came into the picture. Those who plan for a funeral often choose a green burial because it is a clean and natural way to give your remains back to nature and nurture the environment rather than staking a spot with a plot and grave liners and heavy, thick caskets.
With a green burial, you can be environmentally conscious as your remains help preserve a natural burial area. Green burial is a conscious choice to conserve natural resources as you choose to use non-toxic and biodegradable materials for the burial and natural ways of embalming.
What Does Green Burial Involve?
A green burial can still involve all of the same important family moments together celebrating and remembering the life of a loved one. It is important to spend time talking and crying and laughing together remembering the life who has passed on. Whether we do this by Zoom, phone calls, or in person, it is necessary to take time out from normal everyday life to grieve your loss.
A typical green burial package might include:
- Professional Services of the Funeral Director & Staff: This can include counseling and advice about the many issues surrounding the death in the family and how to proceed.
- Local Transfer of Deceased from Place of Death: The family does not have to worry about this aspect of the death. The funeral home generally takes care of this.
- Natural Care and Preparation (no embalming): This is natural and safer for the environment for when the body is buried in the ground
- Biodegradable Casket or Shroud: A shroud is a cloth wrapping for the body that covers the entire body and face. Biodegradable casket could be made of wood or other natural materials
- Visitation and/or Funeral (same day): WIth a green burial, this is generally same day to keep the body in good condition
- Hearse to the Local Green Burial Cemetery
- Graveside Service at the Cemetery
There are 2 cemeteries in the Raleigh Durham area that allow green burial: Oakwood Historic Cemetery located in downtown Raleigh has a green section. The other green cemetery is Pine Forest Memorial Gardens located in Wake Forest.
Often, with a green burial, a family would like to treat death as a natural and normal part of life and because of this, they want to participate a bit more in the entire process.
Sometimes family members assist with the dressing of the deceased. Others may decorate the casket or plant a tree at the gravesite. Some might want to contribute a shovel of dirt or flowers into the grave as it is filled.
You can even make the casket as long as it is made of wood or similar non-toxic organic and biodegradable materials and you contact your green cemetery for proper dimensions and requirements.
Many families choose green burial to express a love for nature and an appreciation for the circle of life.
Why Not Embalming?
Embalming involves the use of dangerous chemicals that have been linked to many health issues. Typical embalming fluids contain formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, humectants and wetting agents, and other solvents. The formaldehyde can be as high as 35% while methanol content can be as high as 56%. (1)
Environmentalists do not usually approve of embalming because of the use of highly toxic solvents and other chemicals used. There have been some environmentally friendly improvements in some types of embalming fluids, but not enough to truly mitigate the risk if you are concerned about the environment.
Embalming is not a legal requirement, and in fact, many religions were initially against the process. Some still ban embalming. Proponents of embalming would declare that it improves the appearance, but others advise that it can give someone a waxy look.
Embalming can allow for viewable remains in some cases where choosing not to embalm would prohibit a viewing. Dry ice is an alternative but not a replacement for embalming. Ideally, without embalming, burial should take place within five days after the death, sometimes sooner.
You can still have a visitation with a green burial. It can be held at a home, a church, or a funeral home and can be public or private. Some funeral homes require embalming while others allow no embalming or use biodegradable embalming. There is no federal or state law against visitation without using typical embalming processes.
Every person has a slightly different biochemical makeup so each body responds to death differently. As well, the circumstances surrounding death affect the possibilities of a viewing: how the person died; why the person died; where the person died; or if an autopsy was performed on the body by a medical examiner.
Under certain circumstances, it will be advisable that the body not be viewed and dry ice will not suffice for a visitation. An immediate burial will sometimes be the recommended option.
The Green Burial Process
With a green burial in a green cemetery, there are regulations about what is allowed there.
- No metal caskets
- No vaults or outer burial containers are used.
- No embalmed remains (sometimes biodegradable chemicals are allowed).
- Caskets must be made of natural wood or non-toxic biodegradable material. (Sometimes remains may be buried without a casket and a special burial shroud used instead. In this case, visitation is generally held at home.)
The burial grounds are usually in a wooded area or field. You can even choose to have a burial on your own property although there are some restrictions. More restrictions exist within city limits. Contact your city or county government for approval and laws.
If you are considering funeral plans for someone or thinking about planning your own services, contact an experienced and knowledgeable funeral home to find out what types of planning are available where the burial will take place. Many cities now have green burial options.
Whether you are considering green burial or another type of burial, if you live in the Raleigh Durham area, we at Renaissance Funeral Home would appreciate the chance to serve you in your grief journey or as you plan.