Green Burials

These days, we hear much about “going green”, leaving an “environmental footprint”, “climate change”, etc.  We are all responsible to do our part to preserve and protect our environment while we are alive.  But, what about after we die?  Can you still do your part? Hmmmmm.

Think about how much wood is used to make caskets.  How many tons of steel and/or concrete are used for burial vaults?  And, what about the amount of embalming fluid used? 

The numbers are staggering – 30 million board feet of wood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid.  That would be enough metal to build a Golden Gate Bridge every calendar year!

Many individuals are grabbing the idea of eco-friendly funerals and some of the ideas are centuries old for certain cultures.  This has also created new industries for society. 

Here are but a couple of eco-friendly ideas for consideration:

  • If you are firm with a ground burial, you could consider a coffin made out of seagrass, bamboo or woven willow.  These materials decompose naturally.  Also, certain burial garments are made out of materials (such as mushrooms) which will decompose naturally.  Kosher caskets are made of soft pine or poplar wood, with no metal parts – totally biodegradable.  Likewise, Muslim burial traditions are naturally green.  Jewish and Muslim rituals allow for the preservation of a body for a couple of days to give time for families to gather for a funeral, as embalming is avoided.  This keeps formaldehyde out of the ground and the deceased is gently washed and dressed in cotton or linen which will biodegrade naturally.
  • If you prefer cremation, biodegradable urns come in a wide range of materials, including handmade paper, sand and gelatin, cornstarch, bamboo and recycled paper. A biodegradable urn in the earth will decompose over time; the rate depending on the material chosen and environmental conditions.  If you wish to be cremated and have your remains scattered, scattering tubes made from recycled paper ease the process from opening a plastic bag.  These scattering tubes are allowed for placement in carryon luggage for airline travel. 
  • If you would like to have a part in regeneration of our environment, you might want to explore an Italian burial pod, which focuses on the life cycle.  A biodegradable egg-shaped burial container has been designed for cremated remains and full bodies folded in a fetal position. The Capsula Mundi project has created burial pods meant to be paired with a live tree in a natural burial ground with the pod being buried as a seed planted beneath a tree chosen in life by the deceased.  It is hoped that family and friends would continue to nurture the tree as it grows.
  • If you love the ocean, cremains can be cast to the sea in a seashell or turtle-shaped urn that floats for a few moments, then gracefully sinks under the surface. Biodegradable urns for water are made of a variety of natural materials, including recycled paper, rock salt, gelatin and sand.

Regardless of your preference for disposition of your body/remains, it is vital that you have a conversation with your loved ones to let them know your wishes.  Without having what may seem to be a difficult conversation is really a conversation that will relieve your loved ones of trying to decide what your preferences would be.  In fact, you can make the task easier by doing some pre-planning and telling your loved ones that you have done so and exactly where to find the details when that time comes. 

Don’t delay.  It would be a great burden off of your loved ones, whatever choices you make.


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About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner®, and a Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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