Green or Natural Burial Provider

What is a Green or Natural Burial?

A green or natural burial looks to return a body to the earth, as directly and simply as possible. The goal is as basic as the burial itself: to invite the dissolution of one's remains and its reunion with the elements, using what's left of a life to regenerate new life, to return dust to dust. As a consequence, green burial prohibits practices that slow that natural process of decay (including embalming and the use of burial vaults and metal caskets) and promotes those that allow it (with shrouds and biodegradable caskets). In the scores of natural cemeteries that are springing up around the country, bodies aren't just given a green burial but returned to forests, meadows and other natural environments where the deceased quite literally live on.

Such simple burial is a natural all the way around. "Natural burial is obviously good for the planet because it uses so few resources," says Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters, the signature book on the green burial trend. "But it's also easy on the pocketbook, involves families in the funerals, and celebrates the life of the deceased. And since this is the way our ancestors buried their loved ones, it's in keeping with a long - and honorable - tradition."

How to find a green or natural burial provider

Natural burial cemeteries

There are well over 100 cemeteries in the United States and Canada that allow for natural burial. Some two dozen are independent cemeteries dedicated solely to natural burial. The others are traditional cemeteries that either allow for vaultless/green burial anywhere on their grounds or accommodate green burial only in separate areas that are more natural in appearance and function.

The Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization that works to encourage environmentally-sustainable deathcare, has drafted standards for green cemeteries. You'll find a list of GBC-certified cemeteries on the Green Burial Council website. For those and others, click Natural Burial Co-operative and the Natural End websites.

A note about scattering cremated remains. You may legally scatter cremated remains on your own land. On private property, you'll need the permission of the landowner. Check with the appropriate government entity, such as the National Park Service, before scattering on public lands.

Funeral director

Your local funeral director may provide green services (refrigeration in lieu of embalming) and products (biodegradable caskets and urns). You'll find a list of funeral directors who have agreed to do that on the Green Burial Council website and on the Natural End website. Before hiring any funeral director or other provider for a green burial and/or funeral, confirm the exact nature of the goods and services you expect to receive.

Home funeral guides

An increasing number of families are returning to the long tradition of holding funerals at home, with or without the assistance of a funeral director. To find out more about home funerals, the role of a home funeral guide and how to find one, please visit Heart2Soul's Home Funeral page.

What you can expect from a green or natural burial provider

A green or natural burial provider should be able to offer you a range of goods and services to accommodate your need for a funeral, cremation and/or burial. Among them:

  • Caskets made from biodegradable material, including cardboard, wood, wicker, bamboo, seagrass and papier mâché, among others. You may also make your own green casket, hire a local carpenter to do it for you, or order one from any number of online sites.
  • Urns made from natural materials that will degrade in aquatic or earthen environments.
  • Memorial reef structures. A handful or organizations can add the cremated remains of your loved one to artificial reef structures offshore.

What should you expect to pay for a green or natural burial?

Depending on the exact nature and number of goods and services you choose, as well as the fees of the particular cemetery, a natural burial can run anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. On average, the cost of a plot in a natural cemetery is in the $2,000 range, plus opening/closing costs. We encourage you to confirm pricing, ask for references and interview any funeral professional you are considering hiring.

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Grave Matters
By Mark Harris
Mark Harris