What is a green burial?
A green burial is done with the goal of returning the body to the earth so that it can be naturally recycled through uninhibited decomposition; green burials are intended as economically sustainable alternatives to traditional funeral practices. In most cases, the body is not embalmed and is placed in a biodegradable container (for example, willow), then interred directly in a grave without a concrete liner.
The first green cemetery, Ramsey Creek, was opened in 1998 by Billy Campbell in South Carolina. Since then, an emerging new movement for simpler, more environmentally friendly has resulted in a variety of alternatives to traditional funeral practices.
Cremation is also considered a type of green burial, because although energy is consumed to burn the body, its footprint is so small and its byproducts so marginal that it is generally accepted as a green burial practice.
Why a green burial?
There are over 22,000 cemeteries in the United States alone, and each year we bury the following with our traditional funeral practices:
Caskets – 30 million feet of hardwood, 90,272 tons of steel, and 2,700 tons of copper/bronze.
Vaults – 14,000 tons of steel and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete
Embalming fluid – 827,060 gallons
Clearly, over time these practices will prove to be unsustainable as more and more land is consumed to create cemeteries and more and more of material resources, such as woods and metals are buried in the ground along with our dead.
Cost is also a factor, considering the average cost for a traditional funeral is approximately $6500 to $8000. Green burials cost substantially less, especially if the body is to be cremated and the family decides spreads the ashes spread instead of interring the body. We have the only green burial offering in the state of New Hampshire that approved by the Green Burial Council.
Are There Green Alternatives to Interment?
In addition to simple interment or cremation, there are a number of creative alternatives for cremated remains as well. For example, one company, Celestis, can send a lipstick-sized container of cremated remains into space. They offer several choices for the containers, including orbit with return, release into the orbit, lunar release, or release into deep space.
Eternal Reefs incorporates cremated remains into an environmentally safe cement mixture, using the mixture to create artificial reef formations that support new marine habitats for fish and other sea creatures. They have placed over 300 memorial reefs throughout the east coast and expect them to last approximately 500 years.
The Future of Green Burials
As the green burial movement continues to gain popularity, there are more and more green cemeteries appearing in the United States. Since 1998, the number of green cemeteries has gone from 1 to 12, operating in 10 states with 4 more are under development. We have seen an exponential increase over the last few years in green burials at our facilities, so it is certainly clear to us that the green burial movement is here to stay.