Green Burials

Cycle of lifeIf you are the sort of person who strives for a green lifestyle, now is the time to consider how you want to be buried and make your wishes known. Otherwise, your burial will likely be at odds with your values—and the person you have tried, all your life, to be.

Why? Because the typical modern American burial is a highly unsustainable affair.

Collectively, conventional burials in the U.S. lock away over 30 million board feet of hardwood, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete and more than 100,000 tons of metal in graves each year. They also pollute our waters with toxic embalming fluids, as well as chemicals used to keep cemetery lawns green.

The reason is not religion, but American custom and commerce since the Civil War. In fact, some faiths, such as Judaism and Islam, dictate practices that are downright eco-friendly.

Many people mistakenly imagine that cremation is a green choice. While it does have less of an impact on the environment than a conventional burial, its combustion process contributes to global warming and releases mercury from dental fillings into the air.

Green burialA green burial at Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina.

However, there is a green alternative—used for millennia around the world. Skip the embalming. Place the body in a biodegradable container or shroud. Put it in a simple grave, sans concrete vault or liner. Then let nature do its work in returning the body whence it came. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

There are a growing number of funeral homes and cemeteries that follow this approach in the U.S. today. The greenest cemeteries not only eliminate unsustainable practices, but conserve land and restore ecosystems as well. You can find a certified green burial provider at the Green Burial Council site.

Read my Green Burials piece for NRDC’s This Green Life for more information, including ways to green up a cremation.


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10 Responses to Green Burials

  1. Patricia C. and Robert W. Gilbert February 9, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    This is an excellent idea…..we have made arrangements to be cremated and your ideas are inspiring.

  2. Elizabeth February 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Another alternative you didn’t mention that’s catching on in Europe is composting bodies. I announced to my parents that I’d rather compost them than cremate them–they rolled their eyes but agreed I could do whatever I liked 🙂

  3. leslie February 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    What about donating one’s body to science/medicine?

  4. Sue February 9, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Thank you for this information. I really appreciate.

  5. Joel Stopha February 9, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    You need to be careful suggesting the use of bamboo in place of wood, especially wood grown in North America. According to Bamboo Now,, most bamboo is grown in Asia, under unsustainable practices and often overharvesting occurs. In addition, it doesn’t full under the 3000 mile guideline established by The Green Burial Council. In the US, hardwood caskets and urns without toxic coatings are the truly “green” option!!

  6. Mary Burns February 10, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Awesome article – something everyone should think about and consider. Bravo to you!

  7. John Schultz February 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Thanks for the info. I have been interested in knowing more about green burials since first seeing a blurb about them on TV. It is interesting how we insulate ourselves from the natural world in death the same as we do in life. I confess, I really hadn’t thought too much about all of the environmental impact of a conventional burial. Thanks again.

  8. Brenda February 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    This is so great. We are a homschooling, recycling, composting home and always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. I have many times told my kids that we return to dust so the only point of a burial plot is for the living. I have wanted for many years now to donate my body to the body farm in Tennessee.

  9. Rory Rickwood August 21, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    For more information about green burials and eco-friendly funeral options, visit:


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