The phrase what’s old is new again is, well, old itself, but it often refers to trends or traditions that return (or never actually went away). Such is the case with a natural burial, which is also referred to as a green burial or earth burial.
For thousands of years, a natural burial was the way of the world. There was nothing else. The concept of preserving the body of the deceased did not become the norm in the United States until the Civil War, when soldiers’ bodies would be kept preserved until returned home to their families. That kickstarted the concept of a modern burial, which led to embalming the body so it can remain intact and presentable several days after a death.
While embalming is still a common practice, it is not part of a natural or green burial. The guiding principle behind a natural burial is that is causes the smallest amount of impact to the planet and environment, in an effort to conserve natural resources, lower emissions into the environment and help to maintain the natural habitat where the body’s remains will decompose.
Aside from a lack of embalming, there are also no concrete vaults or traditional coffins containing metal with green burials. A body is typically covered in a biodegradable shroud or placed in a wooden or paperboard coffin. Families have actually found comfort in the green burial tradition with the feeling that it offers a more meaningful goodbye to a loved one.
This back-to-basics trend toward green burial has seen continued growth in recent years, and with that growth, available options for those choosing this path have also grown. There are several things to take into consideration once you have decided on a green burial for yourself or a loved one:
Only Some Cemeteries Allow a Green Burial
It’s important to do some research when deciding where a green burial will take place. We’ve listed some New England cemeteries that offer green burials on our blog, but as the trend grows, there will be more cemeteries going this route in the near future.
There are three types of cemeteries where a green burial can take place:
- Hybrid: This is a traditional cemetery that offers a green burial section. A vault or traditional casket is not a requirement. A hybrid cemetery may allow toxin-free embalming.
- Natural burial ground: This takes the practice of a green burial outside of a traditional
cemetery into a natural setting, like a wooded area or forest. As this area is truly nature, there are no burial containers that are not naturally-derived allowed. No artificial pesticides are allowed either, and no embalming of the body. Mast times, they also don’t allow traditional headstones or markers.
- Conservation burial ground: Taking it a step further, this is truly a nature preserve with part of the land designated for burials. Often, these areas are maintained by the cost of a green burial or a donation made to conservation of the area.
Green Burial Options
Just because this is a simpler, more-natural option for burial doesn’t mean there are fewer options for personalizing the celebration of life. One unique option for families that embrace the concept of green burial is arranging for a block of plots with a single family tree planted at the center.
The idea is that the vessel a body is placed in for a green burial will break down quickly in the earth. Options for receptacles include materials such as hemp, teak, cork, willow, banana leaf, recycled cardboard, seagrass or organic felt. These materials typically can be decorated with plant-based inks to artfully send off a loved one.
Depending on the rules in the cemetery, different flowers and plants can be planted on top of the grave. One important thing to note is that many green burial sites do not allow permanent stone markers.
Participating in a Green Burial
Being part of a green burial can give peace and a sense of closure to friends and family members. There are some green burial cemeteries that allow your loved ones to participate in most of the burial process, including:
- Transporting the body
- Preparing the body
- Helping to dig the grave
- Lowering the body into the ground
- Filling the grave
You Can Share Your Green Burial Site
Green burial cemeteries have an option to reuse grave sites. Once a certain amount of time passes (decades, typically), the remains have returned to the earth, and a gravesite can be used in succession for another burial.
Grave permanence is an important factor for many, but this is an option to consider as cemetery space shrinks.
We Feature a Green Burial Package
Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium is actually the only funeral provider in New
Hampshire and Vermont approved by the Green Burial Council to make a green burial package available.
We have met with thousands of families over the years, and know how important someone’s final wishes are to not only them but their loved ones. Offering green burial services just makes sense to us. As this tradition grows, we will use this space to keep you informed of important changes and updates, both regionally and nationally.