Eco Friendly and Green Burials


Cardboard Coffin

I was reviewing my will the other day and even though my body is being donated (FREE) to UCSD and I have requested no funeral (saving money, if I have any left!) got to thinking about funerals and the effect on the environment. Little did I know, there is such a thing as ‘Green Burials’. 

What is a Green Burial?- Also known as a Natural Burial supports the earth’s ecosystem. No toxic chemicals (such as embalming fluids) are use. No concrete is used. Caskets (if used) are biodegradable and buried shallowly so it nourishes plant growth as it decomposes. Grave markers are native stones or plants. 

I Just Gotta Tell Ya: 

  • Average cost of a Funeral (2004) was $6,500 
  • Average cost for a cemetery play ($500- $5,000
  • Green Burials can run 1/2 the cost of a traditional funeral. 
  • 30-million board feet (70,000 m³) of hardwoods – much of this sourced from rainforests;
  • 104,272 tons of steel (90,272 for caskets and 14,000 for vaults);
  • 2,700-tons of copper and bronze; and
  • 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete.
  •  827,000 gallons (3,100 cubic meters)  of embalming fluid (primarily formaldehyde – a highly toxic substance) are used to prepare bodies for burial and additional binders, glues, stains, varnishes, and fabrics are used to produce and finish caskets.  Many of these materials have an adverse impact on the environment, leaching dangerous chemicals into watersheds.  

In some cases like Ramsey Creek Preserve, for instance, 10 percent of the burial cost goes into a restoration fund for the nature preserve and 5 percent goes into a fund that does watershed protection and restoration of a historical church on the grounds.


  • Eternal Reefs- offers underwater burial at sea in artificial reefs. They mix remains with concrete to build artificial reefs providing an environmentally memorial for families 
  • Green Site that offers much information on burials and has listing of ‘Green Burial’ locations. 
  • Green Burial Council– Developed a certification programs with ‘approved providers’ who are committed to reducing toxins, waste and carbon emissions. ‘Approved’ Green Burial Providers are listed on the site. 
  • Natural Burial in the USA – Also lists Natural Burials in Canada, UK, Europe, Asia and Africa 
  • Funeral Consumers Alliance – Non Profit dedicated to protecting the a consumers right to choose a affordable funeral. 
  • Memorial Green Burials 
  • Green Burial Pittsburgh 


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  1. says

    Thank you for your article. The fastest most ancient de-composition is the use of placing the body in a burial shroud for both burial and cremation. Nocaskets! Many of the “green” caskets are imported over long distances from China on freighters.Our products are all locally made in the US.Please visit our website at to see our shroud which was used on “Six Feet Under”. If you like it add us as a link! Your posting will help many people who wish to learn about this form of burial.Thank you

  2. says

    Green burial environmental standards are excellent and will become the norm. But other aspects needs development – human needs must not be sacrificed while solving environmental ones. The green burial movement sometimes appears to “throw the baby out with the bath water”. For example:

    1. Forbidding enduring markers. A natural stone marker is not environmentally-unfriendly. If gloomy Victorian cemeteries have negative associations, let’s create a new aesthetic! Time-resistent individual markers provide a subtle but important continuity and symbolize hopes of transcendence – they categorically do not hurt the earth.

    A tree as marker is anonymous and short-lived. A woodland cemetery without stone markers will evolve into a beautiful but anonymous forest – not a cemetery anymore than a forgotten mass-grave in the forests of Eastern Europe. Here too families will wander directionless through beautiful forests with nothing tangible to identify loved ones with… why not an engraved boulder AND a tree?

    Relying on current-technology electronic marking (e.g GPS) is naïve – Windows98 is already unusable! Moreover, a fundamental psychological difference exists between contemplating a name or image on a grave marker and electonically relocating an anonymous location with no visible connection to the person buried there.

    3. Land consumption. We are 7 billion and growing. Burying us all in low-density green cemeteries will consume too much valuable arable or wild land – the needs of the living must come first. (If we want perpetual graves, not European-style recycled grave plots, space needs will be even greater.)

    4. Perpetuity. The green burial concept does nothing new to guarantee the perpetuity of our graves. If land needs already threaten traditional cemeteries, what of marker-less woodland cemeteries which in a few decades will not even look like cemeteries? Another solution must be found to assure our eternal rest.

    Elimination of ground pollutants in burial is the first step; the space needs for billions of green burials and the grave perpetuity questions remain. We must find ways to ensure the graves of our families rest undisturbed in perpetuity, without sacrificing the earth’s environment.

    Thomas Friese

  3. says

    For those who choose cremation as their burial wish, a Living Reef Memorial is a beautiful legacy of eternal life and everlasting hope. A Living Reef Memorial is one green burial solution for a more healthy planet. A Living Reef makes a profoundly honorable statement about the people we love, the life they led, and their impact on us. These reefs reduces species extinction rates, enhances biodiversity, and restores ailing fish stocks. The benefits of a living reef are ecologically endless. We specifically focus our personalized hands on attention locally primary west coast distrubutors.

    There is no better statement of who we are than by what we leave behind.

  4. Simon says

    Lexi: all you say about the environmental benefits of a Living Reef Memorial may be correct, but how do relatives ever visit the sites where the remains of their loved ones lie?

    I don’t get this concept at all. Better something like what Mr. Friese seems to be aiming at – making memorials both lasting AND environmentally-friendly.

  5. says

    Simon, The reef sites all have a GPS tracking location given to each family. Loved ones can visit via dive or boat anytime. My Living Reef is an option that is not only a way for an idividual to become a part of a living memorial in dealth. This concept is both long lasting and enviromenally-friendly. Final thought. For those who choose cremation the ashes are usually disbursed in a manner family members can not revisit. Some may keep ashes in a special container. For this reason My Living Reef offers a Memorial Keepsake Reef that is a small mantel size replica of the original reef.

  6. Simon says

    Lexi, I still don’t agree that your idea is practical.

    Firstly, it is naive to imagine that GPS will be future-compatible in 50 or 100 years. Who knows what will happen between now and then?

    Secondly, graves that cannot easily be visited will be forgotten even faster than those “around the corner in the village cemetery”. Goodness knows, hardly anyone visits these family graves anymore – imagine when they go underwater!!

    It might well be an environmentally friendly idea but in the end it is only an idea, not a workable reality.

  7. Tom says

    Funeral cost can really drain your bank account if you are not prepared. I had to help my wife with her dad’s funeral last year and was shocked at how expensive everything was. Also it seemed as if many funeral homes have not changed much in the way they do business over the last 20 years.

    I think green funeral alternatives are a great way to combine wildlife conservation and reducing your eco-footprint and I am looking into this for my own funeral planning. I found this website that has a list of green funeral providers in the US. The list is still very short but it is a start I guess.

  8. George says

    Our bodies are made up of the same elements as the earth and if returned to the earth without benefit of funeral home/mortuary nonsense would allow a love one to return back to the earth – a simple cotton shrowd and a hole will suit me just fine.

    The issue of GPS and other such ideas in my opinion are simply nonsense – not any better that the wooden crosses and makers used not only in the past but today for those who can’t afford stone or metal. A large part of the reason for markers is to allow immediate family and friends a way to honor their departed. A secondary reason for markers is for folks like me who wants to find their families more than a living memory span back.

    Man does not allow perpetuity – as cities grow cemeteries are dug up and relocated and the prior comentary about the European grave recyling treatment are testaments to the day when the living has no more room for the dead.

    What a shame. Making a “green” statement at the end of ones days is and admirable choice, but what good are monuments if no one knows about them?

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