Great forum. I am enjoying all these inquisitive minds. For those of you who are craving some basics, there are lots of ways to make a burial more environmentally friendly, but a few components are the most important for creating a true green burial.
Don’t Use a Decorative Casket
The typical casket used today is not made to be biodegradable; it’s made for preservation. Modern burial boxes are manufactured from reinforced steel or shellacked hardwoods, then embellished with metals, handles, and ornamentation. All that metal, lacquer, and toxic glue is certainly no good for the environment. If you decide you want a casket, opt for a basic wooden casket, like a plain pine box, or one made from other natural materials: bamboo, sea grass, banana leaves, and even willow branches. Earth-friendly caskets are fully biodegradable. They will break down to nothing, and they shouldn’t have any traces of metal, toxic glue, plastic, or varnish.
However, you don’t need to use a casket at all. A deceased person can easily be wrapped in a favorite non-bleached or dyed cloth, blanket, or tapestry, and several types of commercially made burial shrouds and wraps are now sold.
Don’t Use a Burial Vault or Grave Liner
A burial vault — also referred to as a grave box, casket liner, or outer burial container — is a container made from concrete or polypropylene, and it is used to surround the casket for maximum preservation and to prevent the grave from collapsing over time. Green cemeteries prohibit them entirely, and traditional cemeteries are beginning to forgo their obligatory inclusion. A green burial should be designed to allow the body to naturally return to the earth at the fastest rate possible. By not using a vault, the process happens much more quickly.
Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a likely carcinogen that is hazardous to the environment as well as to the embalmer. Forgoing standard embalming doesn’t necessarily mean that a funeral must happen more quickly: Alternatives do exist for preserving a body for a moderate period, such as “green embalming” techniques as well as good old-fashioned refrigeration and dry ice. If you are using a funeral home, they will be able to assist with standard refrigeration, but if you are handling the body yourself, you might need some instruction. However, don’t let the idea of an unpreserved body gross you out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes it clear that the average dead body is neither dangerous nor contagious. Our society has developed a number of myths and misconceptions about dead bodies that I hope my book will help dispel.
Use a Green Burial Site
Ideally, to ensure an eco-friendly burial, choose a fully natural burial ground whose sole purpose is eco-conservation. Another great choice is a hybrid or low-impact green cemetery, a burial area that has adopted environmental practices but also allows for traditional graves. Or, if the law allows and the land is available, consider a backyard burial. See chapter 6 for more on this. A backyard burial takes some extra planning, and some extra work, but it may be the greenest way to say goodbye.