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Green Burial

Green burials minimize negative environmental impacts by using biodegradable materials, avoiding toxic chemicals, and occurring on land maintained using good conservation practices.

Basics of Green Burials

Avoiding Environmental Harm; Providing Environmental Benefit

Conventional burial practices harm the environment: they involve hazardous chemicals, non-biodegradable materials, and cemeteries that are often ecologically barren due to herbicide and fertilizer use. The term “green burial” refers to burial practices that minimize negative impacts on the environment. Unlike conventional burials, green burials:

  • Use burial shrouds or unsealed caskets made of renewable, biodegradable materials
  • Avoid embalming fluids and other toxic chemicals
  • Occur in green cemeteries, hybrid cemeteries, or natural burial grounds that are managed to protect biodiversity and prevent pollution

Some people extend the eco-friendly principles of green burials to encompass other parts of the death process such as funerals (e.g., a family might seek contributions to an environmental charity in lieu of flowers or print programs on recycled paper).

Ultimately, there is no hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes a green burial. However, the Green Burial Council does operate a certification program for burial grounds, funeral homes, and products based on a set of rigorous standards.

Cost

Green burials can cost far less than conventional burials because they do not require a vault, expensive casket, or embalming fluids. A simple shroud or pine casket costs hundreds of dollars, not thousands. However, prices vary depending on a number of factors such as burial location and time of year.

Conservation Burial

Conservation burial is a form of green burial with an additional layer of environmental protection: the burial grounds are protected by conservation easement, which ensures that they are managed in perpetuity in accordance with conservation principles. Conservation burial grounds are still relatively rare in the United States, but there are a handful across the country.

For more information, see the tenets of conservation burial according to Dr. Billy Campbell, the pioneer of conservation burial in the United States.

What About Cremation?

Opinions are mixed on whether or not cremation counts as a green burial practice. Cremation generates air pollution and requires more fossil fuels than burial in a biodegradable shroud or casket; however, it has a much smaller environmental impact than conventional burial, since it does not require land, burial materials, or toxic chemicals.

The Green Burial Council does not certify cremation-disposition programs, but acknowledges that there are ways to offset the carbon footprint of cremation. See the FAQ page on the Council’s website for more information.

Resources

Articles and Fact Sheets

“On the Way to the Green Burial Cemetery: A Guide for Families”

“The Science Behind Green and Conventional Burial”

“Green Burial: An Environmentally Friendly Choice”

“What Is Green Burial Exactly?”

“11 Environmentally Friendly Burial Options”

“What Is Green Burial?”

“Important Facts to Know About Green Burials”

“Leave a Lighter Footprint: Green Funeral and Burial Tips”

Lists of Green Burial Providers and Burial Grounds

“Green Burial Cemeteries in the U.S. and Canada“

Natural End Map

The Green Burial Council website lists certified green cemeteries, hybrid cemeteries, and conservation burial grounds, as well as funeral homes.

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Featured Library Items

Green burials minimize negative environmental impacts by using biodegradable materials, avoiding toxic chemicals, and occurring on land maintained using good conservation practices. (Print version of ConservationTools.org guide)
Not all green burial cemeteries are alike, and no two funerals are the same. This article is designed to walk families through some common understandings and perceptions regardless of where the burial occurs, and to answer questions that will help make a first green burial experience meaningful for…
Explains the basic differences between conventional burials, which can have negative impacts on the soil and water, and green burials, which seek to minimize environmental impact.

Acknowledgements

The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association produced this guide with support from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. Nate Lotze compiled this guide.

Disclaimer

Nothing contained in this or any other document available at ConservationTools.org is intended to be relied upon as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. The material presented is generally provided in the context of Pennsylvania law and, depending on the subject, may have more or less applicability elsewhere. There is no guarantee that it is up to date or error free.

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