Death & Ecology: What exactly is a green burial?

Exploring an alternative to traditional burial.

Only 20% of us will die at home, even though 80% of us want to be at home. In reaction to this, and the well-documented problems that can arise from treating death as a disease to be cured, a death and dying movement was born. People are choosing to die on their own terms that can include community deathcare, home funerals and green burials.

What is a green burial?

Green or natural burial is the practice of returning the body to the earth’s soil so that it decomposes naturally. This has a positive beneficial impact on the spoil and surrounding environment. Bodies are buried directly in the earth wrapped in a burial shroud, or placed in a casket made of an untreated wood, woven fiber or other biodegradable material. This approach can be incredibly creative and personal. From a mushroom body suit that helps the body break down, while at the same time neutralizing any environmental contaminants that may lurk in your body, (like pesticides, heavy metals, or preservatives); to simple cardboard boxes decorated by family and friends.

The grave is shallow, between 3 and 4 feet. This is the optimum depth for microorganisms and insects to help with rapid aerobic decomposition of the body. This neutralizes most biological infections. With all this nice rich soil being created, many green burial sites restore or preserve the natural landscape with indigenous trees, shrubs, flowers and so on. And because bodies and their containers decompose, if families wish, graves can be re-used every 10 – 15 years, optimizing land use.

A typical cremation uses as much energy as a 497 mile or 800 km car trip. A sobering thought.

Green burials aren’t new. It is the way we buried our dead 100 years ago before death was taken out of the home. Communities came together to wake the deceased at home, construct a simple casket or shroud, dig the grave, have a ceremony and bury their loved one.  Dignified, gracious, helpful for the bereaved, good for the earth.


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