Green burial is something old that is becoming new again. This can also be referred to as a natural burial or a conservation burial. The remains are placed in a biodegradable casket and buried in a cemetery that is generally left in its natural state with no mowing or permanent markers. The location of the deceased is accomplished by using GPS coordinates. However, some traditional cemeteries do have sections dedicated to green burials that are maintained and headstones are allowed.
Most cemeteries in Wisconsin require a concrete container for the casket to go into. It is a cemetery maintenance issue (not a funeral home requirement, nor is it required by law). Concrete gets harder with time when underground or underwater. A casket by itself will deteriorate with time and the grave will sink, requiring more upkeep by the cemetery. A casket in a concrete grave box or a sealed burial vault will prevent the grave from sinking.
Very simple and more cost-effective caskets are used for green burials. They are composed of unfinished wood, wicker, seagrass, bamboo or banana leaf. Only biodegradable containers are used.
The grave is much shallower with green burial, typically three-to-four feet at the most. Beyond that depth, we don't have proper bacteria to help break down the remains. Even at the three-to-four foot range, animals will not disturb the body. In theory these graves could someday be recycled.
Special embalming chemicals are now available which are formalin-free. They will preserve the body for about a week, depending on various circumstances. An open casket service could then be done followed by green burial.
It is possible to have a green burial in a traditional cemetery which requires concrete containers to receive the casket for burial. The funeral director can order a grave liner without a bottom. The casket is lowered and the liner is filled with dirt. Then the cover is placed on the grave liner and the grave is filled the rest of the way with dirt. This will help prevent sinking of the grave.
Funeral directors often get questions about whether it is possible to have a green burial on someone’s own private property. The answer is “it depends.” There are state and possibly county/local municipality hurdles to jump through. Because of the complexities of the process, it is best to start planning far ahead of time. Something to also take into consideration is the possibility of future sale of the land. Obviously, the burial would be on record and be disclosed to potential buyers.
If green burial is something you are interested in, it is important when pre-planning to seek out a funeral home (and cemetery) that is able to accommodate your needs. This takes the stress off of your family members who may not know what to do or do not understand the complexities of your wishes. It will prevent them from making a rushed decision due to perceived time-constraints at the time of your passing.