What Is a Green Burial?
Updated: Oct 13
A green burial is any alternative burial option that promotes environmentally friendly processes for the after-death implantation of bodies into the earth.
Sounds broad, doesn't it? That's because it is! Green burials are just one step in the eco-friendly death industry movement.
The term "green burial" mostly has to do with what comes after body prep and the funeral practice (however it is chosen to be carried out). It focuses on the actual act of placing the body in the ground (or other location - see below for what that means!). The United States, in particular, is a bit behind due to laws and regulations requiring traditional burial practices. However, society recognizes the toll that burying dead bodies traditionally takes on the environment. For that reason, green burials are helping the US move in the right direction. Read on to find out the 9 current options for natural, green burials.
Usually, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "green burials" is something natural. What's more natural than dying? Green burials most definitely incorporate natural elements. However, there are caveats to how you can and can't "dispose" of a body. There are grave depth regulations, as well as cultural preferences that need to be taken into consideration. Not everyone is comfortable with seeing a rotting corpse as it is allowed to decompose naturally into the ground. What's more is that the smell will attract animals. There are ways to avoid this, with beds of flowers and other eco-friendly, mitigatory tactics. Natural burials come in the form of:
Mushroom suits (with some debatable practicality issues)
From biodegradable coffins that give back to the earth to simple shrouds (aka cloth coverings), there are lots of options from companies that provide natural burial products. This is what most people mean when they refer to having a "natural burial" or "natural funeral".
2. Tree Pods
What evokes the meaning of nature more than a forest full of healthy, beautiful trees? Not much. That's why tree pods have gained traction around the world. Capsula Mundi is the well-known and written about company that came up with a tree pod model that would encapsulate an entire human body after death.
However, these prototypes have not come to fruition. Many articles cite the fact that there are simply not enough spaces to plant bodies that are buried in this way. Tree roots are very expansive. While natural burial forests exist, there needs to be a mainstream, modern burial park system in the United States. This will allow all of the types of green burials to coexist in a streamlined, space-saving, environmentally-friendly way!
3. Biodegradable Urns
In the meantime, Capsula Mundi has joined the growing industry of providing biodegradable urns. Theirs look like eggs, much like a smaller version of the tree pods pitched
in the first place. However, these contain cremated remains that nourish the earth after death.
se a tree to grow out of the urn, or have a plant, bush, shrub, or flower planted atop the burial space.
Some other options for biodegradable urns include those made of rock salt or paper/fiber.
4. "Living" Urns
Living urns, while similar to biodegradable urns, often come in different forms. Some of the most popular brands are Bios Urn and The Living Urn. You can choose your tree that grows right out of the urn, and some indoor options that stay intact are available!
5. Body Compost
Similar to the idea of using a biodegradable earn to nourish the soil underneath a plant or tree, you can actually turn your body into soil after death. Recompose developed this revolutionary process, as well as the facilities that house it. However, we are talking about green burials here, in particular. So in this instance, you would be given the compost from your loved one's body, allowing you to choose where to use that soil and what to plant on top of it. They partner with burial forests, but again, this isn't accessible to most.
6. Water Burials
Water burials is a category of green burials that includes water urns, water scattering, and actual burials at sea. Of course, rules and regulations apply to water burials, as well. If you just want to set your body off into the sea, this can be done, but:
"The Environmental Protection Agency regulations for full body burials at sea in the United States require that the site of interment be 3 nautical miles (5.6 km; 3.5 mi) from land and at a depth of at least 600 feet (180 m). In California, a whole body must be buried at least three miles off the coast."
You can also scatter ashes on a body of water, or purchase a soluble water urn that will release the ashes into the sea over time. This can be a beautiful option without harming the land or oceans. They're usually made of paper and come in sea turtle or seashell shapes! Or you can opt for more simple designs.
Water burials are different from aquamation. Aquamation is a form of water cremation, allowing the human body to dissolve, leaving a weakened skeleton that is then ground up into fine, pearlized powder and given to loved ones. However, this article is focusing on where to house the remains once they are sustainably cremated or otherwise. Of course, alternatives to cremation and traditional embalming are a super important part of the process! Just remember to find out where you're going to keep the remains. Otherwise, the remains (although sustainably cremated) can become a burden - something that neither you nor your loved ones should have to go through. The good news is that there are plenty of options, most of which are in this article! And they continue to grow in numbers. We just have to take action!
7. Tibetan Sky Burials
Tibetan sky burials are also sometimes referred to as celestial burials. This is the traditional practice of placing a body on a mountaintop to decompose and be exposed to the elements and, therefore, the sky. This provided spiritual and practical advantages to Tibetan culture. The culture is something to read up on, but essentially they are humble, nature-loving, and want to give back to the earth. Providing vultures with food is one natural way to do that. This is hardly allowed in the US, though, so make sure to check local laws before putting a body on top of a cliff.
8. Coral Reef Memorials
Companies like Eternal Reefs have taken the idea of water burials and made them even more environmentally friendly. Coral reefs are important habitats for a variety of aquatic life, and they can actually be manufactured synthetically. Coral reef memorials allow you to mix a bit of your loved one's ashes into a concrete mixture, and then watch (or participate) as the new reef is lowered into the ocean.
This is a wonderful option for loved ones that enjoyed the sea and marine life during their time on earth. It isn't available to everyone, but it does serve a nice purpose.
9. Body Farms
Along with donating your body for scientific research in a clinical setting, you can also donate your body to be studied at a body farm. This is just how it sounds: Bodies are observed in all states of decomposition on a "farm". This may sound sort of gross, but it helps advance the human understanding of our own bodies and how they impact the earth! In fact, it may even be responsible for a greener shift in burials in the future.
10. Space Burials
Yes, you can actually launch your remains into space. However, they have to be cremated and scattered in a way that doesn't contribute to "space junk" and debris. Otherwise, this wouldn't be such an eco-friendly option. This also isn't available to the vast majority of people, but if you have a loved one that passed on and had a passion for space, was an astronaut, or wanted to become one, this could be an awesome option.
Of course, to be even kinder to the earth, you need to explore alternatives to embalming fluid and cremation. Furthermore, you need somewhere to house the natural burial options. It's important to always check your local laws and regulations that have to do with grave depth, types of graves allowed, etc. There are certain places that allow you to bury a body in your backyard (documented, of course!), but this even has some location restrictions. There are zoning laws for suburban areas, for obvious real estate implication reasons. And you can't just bury someone or their ashes in public, technically. Some states even require that you have a funeral director for the process.
So with all of these restrictions, how will the US ever move forward? That's where Currant comes in, bringing modern burial parks to the United States - changing the way America views cemeteries and the death process! As green burials increase in popularity, laws and regulations will adjust. There are natural burial forests are already popping up across the country, but they are expansive and often difficult to navigate in order to find the specific tree that your loved one's ashes helped grow. Instead, Currant is ready to provide you with a modern space with easy access and clear markers to memorialize your loved ones.