If 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.
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.