Consider Ecologically Friendly, Green, Choices

“Going green”, “being ecologically friendly”, and “using sustainable products” are slogans reflecting the wish to alleviate climate change, avoid pollutions and poisons, and protect the earth, water, and air. In daily life, actions may include reducing the use of plastics, recycling bottles, cans and paper, substituting wind and solar energy for fossil fuels, avoiding poisons and harsh chemicals. In death, the same considerations apply and support a new return to the age-old tradition of a simple burial, a tradition still practiced in the Orthodox Jewish and Muslim religions.

The Green Burial Council, a pioneer in promoting “green” dispositions of the body, is opposed to embalming because its poisonous preservative of formaldehyde (which doesn’t preserve for long) leaks into the soil and then into the water. The Council reports that embalmed burials annually add to the earth 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid; as well as 64,500 tons of steel, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, 20 million feet of wood, and 1.6 million tons of concrete.

Understandably, the Council also opposes heavy wood caskets and wood, steel, or concrete outer containers; instead, it is recommended to wrap the body in a shroud or quilt, or to use a plain, unfinished wood coffin -a Jewish simple pine casket is perfect – or one made from grass or reeds. Since many funeral homes list the minimum casket (the cheapest) for direct burial as “20 guage steel”, the ecofriendly advice is to use a shroud (or quilt, blanket) or purchase your own biodegradable coffin.

It is also recommends eliminating the outer burial container altogether and finding a “green” cemetery, which are like old rural graveyards that have no even, tidy lawns but instead feature trees and wildflowers.

In Connecticut, the Council has certified two cemeteries as “green hybrid”, where part of the cemetery has been set aside to meet green standards and part continues to allow embalming and to require an outer container. Several other Connecticut cemeteries also claim that they are or soon will be “green”.

Green plots, whether in hybrid or completely green cemeteries, tend to cost more than plots in embalmed/outer container sections; this price difference, however, is more than offset by avoiding the costs of embalming, outer container, and probably casket.

The Council does not consider cremation a green choice because of the energy used and the emissions released during cremation; however, some suggest measures, as tree planting or using the ashes to build coral reefs, to mitigate these negatives. Given the many positives of cremation – lack of embalming, lower cost, limited land use for burial, planting a tree seems an excellent trade-off for its negatives.

It will also be important to assess the success and environmental impact of alkaline cremation using water and lye which some establishments are have started in early 2024. Stay tuned!


Revised 6/19/2024