• Second Opinion Magazine

Green to the End


It is safe to say that “going green” is no longer just a trend. People are concerned about preserving and protecting the earth for future generations. They are looking for ways to stay green, and finding it is even possible to stay green to the very end. Green burials are feasible and gaining popularity.

What is a green burial?

According to the Green Burial Council (GBC), it is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact, along with the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.

For some, the idea of a green burial is a fairly new concept. However, many groups around the world have been practicing eco-burial traditions all along. Many Native American and Jewish funeral customs have practiced green burials. Jewish law requires the body be allowed to return to the earth as soon as possible. So, the casket must be made entirely from wood, with several holes drilled in the bottom to encourage decomposition and the body’s return to earth. Embalming of the body is not allowed either, so to preserve the body for a few days; it is kept cold using dry ice.

The market for green burials is potentially huge. US funeral homes generate $11 billion in revenue annually, and that number will grow as baby boomers age. The average funeral cost in the US is $6,000. This includes embalming, or injecting bodies with toxic chemicals, then encasing them in a casket made from endangered wood, plastic and metal that, in turn, is buried in a cement vault. One could argue that cemeteries resemble toxic landfills. Not a single state in the US requires embalming the body or a box at burial. These expensive traditions are required only by individual cemeteries, not by law.

There is already a trend of specialty funeral items, like custom painted caskets and urns with insignia or favorite logos. So, eco-friendly items for funerals are just an extension of such personalized end-of life choices. These events can include everything from biodegradable coffins, to eco-friendly clothing for the deceased, to using fuel-efficient cars for the procession. Biodegradable containers start from $100 for basic cardboard box, up to $3,000 for handcrafted, hand-painted models. You can spend much more, like Michael Jackson’s family, who paid a reported $25,000 for the Promethean, made by the Batesville Casket Company in Ripley County, IN. It is made of solid bronze and plated with 14 carat gold hand polished to a mirror finish. Not a good example of a green burial.

Natural, green cemeteries are a growing concept in the US. Often located in pristine, beautiful, open country. Natural rock, wild flowers, shrubs, and trees serve as grave markers, and these cemeteries use the best of today’s technology, like GPS, to keep accurate records of who is buried where within the acres of open wilderness. Natural burial uses no toxic embalming fluid, a biodegradable casket, or a shroud. Simplicity and being truly one with nature is best when you are buried naturally at a green cemetery. You can find green cemeteries in New York, California, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, Georgia, Maine and Colorado.

For much less money, you can build your own coffin at home, or have one made by a woodworker you know. Making a coffin can reflect and celebrate the life of a specific person, like knitting a baby blanket for a close relative. Several coffin plans use solid wood, or hardwood veneer plywood. Regardless of the materials you choose, building a coffin is engaging, within the reach of those with moderate crafting skills, and a great way to be reminded of the need to live well now.

After reading this, you may be asking if cremation is an eco-friendly option. Yes, cremation uses far fewer resources than almost any other disposition option but also has environmental impact. According to the GBC, cremation burns fossil fuels, and is the single biggest source of mercury pollution in the UK. Standard coffins are made of veneered chipboard, much of which is made with formaldehyde in the glue. Natural burial in biodegradable coffins will easily reduce carbon emissions, because most funeral homes require you to buy a casket for the cremation as well. The GBC has recently begun working with the Cremation Association of North America to set standards for more eco-friendly cremation.

So, just as we hear about natural choices for child birth, there are many natural choices for burials. If you can get past the discomfort often related to planning a funeral, green burials are making it possible to honor the dead without further impacting our natural resources.

Woolen Coffins In today’s economic environment, many companies have to be very creative when it comes to staying in business. New ideas for old products; new products for old ideas; and Hainsworth, a 225 year old wool mill in Britain, now offers the newest idea in burial. Woolen coffins have grown very popular, with more and more green funerals occurring these days, the future is bright. Each coffin is made from three sheep’s fleece, capable of holding 840 lbs., has 6 jute handles and a wool nametag. Other green caskets are typically made from wicker, cardboard, or sometimes paper mache, but these new woolen coffins use no dyes, just raw wool, making them eco friendly, pretty, and natural. The US has recently sold as many as 100 woolen coffins. And for Americans who are spending anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 on coffins, the new wool, ranging from $800 to $1,300, are not only nice on the earth, but also on the pocketbook. The woolen coffins even have a comforting effect on the bereaved, says Hainsworth. “They give people a nice feeling. It’s like wrapping a loved one in a warm blanket.”
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