Life's Last Wishes helps you to contemplate and become clear on how you want your body disposed of after you die. It's not a comfortable topic for many people however it is so important.
We see death everywhere in nature, in the trees, the undergrowth, the wildlife. We see the mix of mildewing bones and feathers scattered about in our natural environment – acting as monuments in their own right. It’s clear that in nature, death is, and has always been, a green thing.
But what about for us humans? Is it really an alternative yet?
Well it would seem so.
More and more people are inquiring about, and opting for, ‘green’ funerals. The website Gathered Here has some really useful information for anyone staring on the journey of investigating their options in relation to natural burials and this article in particular is full of information, particularly for Australian based readers. This article answers our questions for us as follows.
What is a green funeral?
A green funeral (also known as a “green burial” or “natural burial”) is a funeral that seeks to make as little impact upon the environment as possible. Green funerals are different from traditional burials in that they have some or all of the following elements:
- Burying the body at a green burial site.
- Burying the body in an environmentally conscious green coffin, casket or shroud
- Burying the body without a grave liner or burial vault
- Dressing the body in biodegradable clothing
- Preparing the body without, chemical preservatives and disinfectants
- Having no headstone or a green headstone
- Engaging the services of a specialist green funeral director
An example of a typical green funeral would be where the body is prepared without embalming, dressed in simple biodegradable clothing without jewellery, and placed in a shroud or biodegradable coffin. In Australia it is not yet permitted to bury without any outer covering.
The body is then buried in a specially designated green cemetery or bushland area where, rather than marking the grave with a large marble headstone, there is either no headstone or a natural marker (such as an engraved stone, tree or flowers). Sometimes the only marker will be satellite navigation coordinates.
Finally, instead of requiring the body to be buried 6 feet under (which requires heavy earthmoving equipment) green graves are dug at a depth of around 3 feet.
Why Have a Green Burial?
For many Australians, having a green funeral is appealing as it’s a way to leave the world with minimal impact to the environment. It’s a trend that’s growing in popularity as shown by the increasing number of green burial sites across Australia. Globally, the UK has also increased its green burial sites from just one fifteen years ago to over 270 today, and a US study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council found that 64% of people aged 40+ expressed an interest in green burials – a 21% increase from a similar survey they conducted in 2010.
Many people view a green burial as a more natural way to be memorialised, with roots stretching back to a time before the commercialisation and industrialisation of the funeral industry. However, by far the main reason people choose a green funeral is that it’s significantly more environmentally friendly and sustainable compared to a traditional funeral.
How Much Better is a Green Funeral for the Environment?
Studies have shown that green funerals reduce the carbon footprint by 30kg of carbon dioxide per burial. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of leaving a lightbulb on for 96 days, leaving a TV on for 7.5 days or driving a car for 1.17 hours. While carbon dioxide emissions are an important consideration, there are actually a number of other reasons that make green funerals significantly more beneficial for the environment:
No toxic embalming chemicals like formaldehyde are used. Formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen, and it’s estimated that over 4,000,000 litres of the toxic chemical is put into the ground in the US every year
Over 4 million acres of forest is required for the wood to build coffins and caskets annually.
Once the body has been buried in a cemetery, the cemetery itself needs to be maintained, requiring millions of tons and litres of water, chemical fertilisers and pesticides in perpetuity
Is Cremation Bad for the Environment?
Considering the environmental impacts of a traditional funeral listed above, you might think that cremation is a more environmentally friendly option. However, the cremation process, which involves burning a body at temperatures between 760 – 1,150 degrees Celcius for 75 minutes, uses an incredible amount of energy. That’s roughly the equivalent of all the energy needs of a single person for an entire month. A study in the UK has estimated that cremation is also responsible for approximately 16% of the mercury pollution in the air.
Green Coffins and Caskets
In order to be buried in a green cemetery or natural burial site, you’ll be required to use a green coffin. A green coffin is a coffin that is made from natural (often recycled) materials that are safely biodegradable, and built in a way that is non-toxic and sustainable to the environment.
Whereas traditional coffins may take decades to decompose, with metal parts and fittings and veneers which seep into the soil, green coffins are designed to decompose much faster and without an impact to the surrounding area.
There are many different types of green coffins which can be made from a range of materials.
You can head on over to the article itself to find out more about burial shrouds, green headstones and natural grave markers.
Need more information?
So if you’ve been thinking of a green burial, or if the completion of your Life’s Last Wishes has given you the impetus to look at alternatives, this information should provide a good basis for a starting point.
If you wish to talk to a professional about your options for a green burial, you will find a directory of Green Funeral Directors in Australia here.
Acknowledgement to Gatheredhere.com for the useful information provided on their website and used in this article.
“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi