Low-Cost and Environment-Friendly Green Funerals Growing in Popularity

Green Burials are offering an alternative way of saying "goodbye" to loved ones.

Reasons to Consider a Green Funeral Are both Financial and Environmental

If you’re like a growing number of conscientious citizens, you may have given a thought to how your funerary plans (or those of a loved one) will impact the environment. Research has shown that traditional burials use inordinate amounts of resources, contribute to greenhouse gases, and use up land while “green” burials offer a solution to the following pressing issues surrounding traditional funerals and are more cost-effective. But what is a “green” burial? The Green Burial Council defines it on its website as green only ” only when it furthers legitimate environmental and societal aims such as protecting worker health, reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving habitat.” While Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance in South Burlington, Vermont said,”Green burial isn’t about doing extra things but it’s about what not to do.” Slocum added, “Although there are four green cemeteries in the United States, it is possible to be buried naturally in a contemporary cemetery.”

The Evergreen Meadow at Bellefontaine Cemetery is a planned short-grass prairie set aside for green burials. Credit Sebastian Martinez / KBIA
The Evergreen Meadow at Bellefontaine Cemetery is a planned short-grass prairie set aside for green burials. Credit Sebastian Martinez / KBIA

A look at Cost

A  conventional funeral with the embalming process and a metal casket—can average $6,500 (U.S.) and that is on the low-end, to which you must add the $2,000 for cemetery charges. Parting, a funeral home comparative website breaks down the cost as follow:

  • fee for the funeral director’s services: $1,500
  • cost for a casket: $2,300
  • embalming: $500
  • cost for using the funeral home for the actual funeral service: $500
  • cost of the grave site: $1,000
  • cost to dig the grave: $600
  • cost of a grave liner or outer burial container: $1,000
  • cost of a headstone: $1,500

With a total cost of approximately $9,000 and that is for a no-frills funeral.

Now let’s look at the cost of a green burial. A report from National Geographic News estimates that not including costs for cremation, a space burial can cost as little as $995 to send up a gram of ashes.

Environmentally Hazardous Cremation Fumes

More and more people in North America are opting for cremation at funerals, perhaps without realizing the environmental consequences of doing so. When the deceased has any mercury fillings, pacemakers, or artificial metal implants, the toxic components from these additions are released into the environment.  It’s been suggested that crematoriums should not be located next to neighborhoods to help preserve human health.

In addition to releasing toxic emissions into the atmosphere, cremating human remains contributes to greenhouse gases. This is due to the carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides that are naturally produced from burning.

Dangerous and Toxic Embalming Materials

At many traditional funerals, the deceased is embalmed. This involves injecting the body with a combination of various chemical agents, including formaldehyde, phenol, and methanol. The result is that the body is “preserved” for public viewing.

Formaldehyde is a well-known carcinogen. Phenol and methanol are also toxic, known to cause irritation to humans and animals.  Thanks to the common practice of embalming, these chemicals find their way into the ground at burials. It’s estimated that there are approximately 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde in the ground due to traditional, non-green funerals. And the human cost is high too as some research published at The Journal of National Cancer Institute indicates that preserving the dead could be killing some long-time funeral home workers, and exposes a higher mortality rate from lymphohematopoietic malignancies and brain cancer among embalmers exposed to formaldehyde.

Increasing Over-Utilization of Land

In a world of finite resources, using up large plots of land necessary for traditional funerals will soon be environmentally unsustainable. For example, in the Vancouver Mountain View Cemetery, grave spots have rapidly filled up, leaving the remaining sites at $25,000 each as of June 2017 for some plots. This is a trend repeated in many cities, where the amount of land available simply cannot keep pace with funeral rates. Green burials allow for greater utilization of land by allowing human bodies to reintegrate naturally into the landscape.

Massive Resource Use for Casket Materials

Traditional funerals require an inordinate amount of resources. In the United States, for example, the amount of wood caskets in the ground takes up 4 million acres of forest. There are 2.3 billion tons of concrete currently in the ground in the US, in addition to 115 million tons of steel. This is an egregious use of resources. Think of the societal implications, especially as population increases, of using so many resources for burial rites. In a green burial, the deceased can be lowered into the ground wrapped in a shroud or in a casket made of locally sourced and sustainable materials.

As environmentally conscious consumers, you seek to make choices which will have positive outcomes for our planet. By choosing a green burial and supporting your loved ones to the same, you can decrease your negative impact on human health, the environment, and society as a whole.

Main Featured photo: Cedar Brook Burial Ground in Limington, Maine.

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