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  • Writer's pictureBeth Hudson

What Is a Natural Burial?

Updated: Oct 13, 2021

A natural burial is the act of placing a body in the ground without using any unnatural, harmful elements. Typically, this includes:

  • No embalming fluids;

  • No traditional caskets;

  • No heavy metals (like burial vaults);

  • Biodegradable caskets;

  • Burial shrouds;

  • No heavy machinery;

  • Graves dug by hand.

Are Natural Burials and Green Burials the Same Thing?

Although used interchangeably at times, natural burials are not exactly the same as green burials. Green burials are any type of burial that uses eco-friendly processes. This can range from scattering ashes to composting a body in a tube -- like Recompose.

Natural burials strictly refer to burying a body directly in the ground, without any help from extraneous sources. Both terms do, however, only refer to the actual process of putting a body into the earth -- in some way or another. Read more about green burials here.

Are There Any Complications with Natural Burials?

Natural burials can be too taboo and out in the open. The smell of a decomposing body isn't always pleasant, either, and it can attract animals and pests. There are no known instances of animals actually digging up a natural grave, but there are prevention practices in place just in case.

Luckily, there are ways to avoid any adverse situations, including:

  • Burying at least two feet deep;

  • Choosing the area wisely;

  • Covering bodies with cotton shrouds;

  • Surrounding bodies with fragrant flowers.

Still, the sight of a body without a casket can still be polarizing for some people. It can be a very healing process, but some individuals would rather death not be out in the open. Especially in US cultures, this isn't a typical practice and can be seen as odd or even traumatic or inappropriate.

There are ways to combat this level of discomfort that Americans may feel with natural burial processes. However, they are a work in progress. More modern burial sites can help familiarize the U.S. with death in an accessible, aesthetically pleasing way.

It's always advisable to work with a company that knows what they are doing when it comes to eco-friendly burials. That way, you won't be breaking any local laws that may have to do with the interment of dead bodies.

Can You Have a Natural Burial in the US?

Sometimes, you will run into rules and regulations when looking into natural burials. Depending on the location, there may be strict laws that prevent you from straying from traditional burial methods. However, this is hopefully shifting direction as more sustainable burial options are becoming available and, frankly, necessary.

If you want to have a natural burial in the US, always check your state's regulations before making plans. Usually, there will be a green burial directory that lets you know which cemeteries allow this sort of thing. There are natural burial forests popping up across the country, as well as what are known as hybrid cemeteries. These cemeteries are traditional, but they allow for a mix of natural burials and traditional burials.

What Is a Natural Burial Cemetery?

Traditional cemeteries are full of headstones that adorn cesspools of harmful chemicals used in death care. On the opposite end, there are natural burial forests or parks that contain only naturally buried bodies. This doesn't impact any water supplies or soil, and these types of cemeteries take great care to ensure the containment of these natural burials.

Natural burial grounds don't always have clear markers for gravesites. This is generally to avoid costly headstones that may add an unnatural element to the cemetery. Instead, they use trees or wooden plaques to designate burial sites.

The downside of this is the accessibility. A modern cemetery could offer natural burials AND green burials. This could provide an easy-to-access hub where all types of burials -- from biodegradable urns to burial pods -- are allowed to take place. Natural headstones can be made to be easily seen and use eco-friendly materials.

What Does a Natural Funeral Look Like?

A natural burial only encompasses the process of putting the body in the ground. The funeral, itself, can take many different forms. Depending on where you bury the body, you can have a lowkey or elaborate funeral. It can even be much the same as a traditional funeral, only there aren't any harmful chemicals or clunky caskets to get in the way.

How Much Does a Natural Burial Cost?

Traditional burials and funeral processes cost upwards of $7,000, with the average funeral in the US coming in around $11,000. Cremation comes in at a lower cost, typically around $4,000. The interment of a body can be relatively cheap if it is a simple event, totaling to only about $2,000 or less for a natural burial.

Will Natural Burials Ever Be the Norm in the US?

While the United States is embracing eco-friendliness more and more each day, there is still a long way to go in terms of natural burials. There are revolutionary products that help bury bodies in more eco-friendly ways, but they haven't been implemented on a mass scale as of 2021. However, the traditional cemeteries are quickly running out of room, and the earth is quickly running out of patience for our pollution. Traditional burials will likely be pushed out in favor of their more environmentally friendly counterparts. When will it happen? That's up to us.

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