The Language of Age
The Value of Old Habits

Green Burial

Funerals, even cremations, are expensive. As reported at, according to the National Funeral Director Association's (NFDA) 2012 Member Compensation Survey,

”The average national cost of a funeral with a vault (not including cemetery, monument or marker costs) is $8,343, while direct cremation is $2,245...”

Being a (mostly) responsible sort of person, I don't want to stick my loved ones with such an are-you-kidding-me bill when I die. Like many elders, I have been intent on prepaying my cremation and I recently looked into getting that done. Prices closely match what is quoted above.

But I have also discovered how much more (and more important stuff) there is to consider than cost in choosing burial arrangements and cremation isn't as environmentally friendly as we might have imagined.

RawStory recently reported,

”[Overall in the U.S., cremation] emits some 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. 'That’s the equivalent of more than 70,000 cars driving the road for a year,' according to UDP (Urban Death Project). 'In other words, the very last thing that most of us will do on this Earth is poison it.'”

And that's nothing compared to the biohazard that is conventional burial in a coffin in a hole in the ground. Most often, the blood of people buried in this traditional way is replaced with embalming fluid:

”...this fluid is a mixture typically consisting of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and methanol, which is neurotoxic to animals,” reports Raw Story. “These and other chemicals in embalming fluid are creating toxic environments around cemeteries.”

Raw Story also quotes Mark Harris from his 2008 book, Grave Matters about the matter:

”The typical 10-acre swath of cemetery ground, for example, contains enough coffin wood to construct more than 40 homes, nine hundred-plus tons of casket steel, and another twenty thousand tons of vault concrete.

“To that add a volume of embalming fluid sufficient to fill a small backyard swimming pool and untold gallons of pesticide and weed killer to keep the graveyard preternaturally green.

“Like the contents of any landfill, the embalmed body’s toxic cache escapes its host and eventually leaches into the environment, tainting surrounding soil and groundwaters.”

That doesn't sound good. Whatever happened to “ashes to ashes?”

As it turns out, there is a better way: what is being called these days green burial. It is environmentally friendly, less expensive than most other kinds of burial and it is a choice that increasing numbers of people are making. explains:

”According to Shari Wolf, founder of Natural Grace Funerals in Los Angeles, there’s one major thing that sets green funerals apart. 'The biggest difference..'is that we do not embalm the bodies,” she said.

“Instead, she and her team slow decomposition through refrigeration, then wrap the deceased in a shroud (or another simple, biodegradable container of the family’s choosing) before laying them to rest directly in the earth.”

Here is Shari Wolf further explaining further:

Since 2005, Green Burial Council has been setting standards for green burials and certifying funeral homes. You can find out more at their website where you can also search for green burial providers in your area of the U.S. and Canada.

The website tells us that green burials are legal in all 50 states but,

”...rules and regulations for dealing with human remains must be followed. Most state laws do not require embalming, although Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey require embalming a body that will be transported across state lines.”

They also caution readers to make arrangements for a green burial long before it is needed:

”If you want a green burial, be sure to say so in your power of attorney for healthcare. It is not enough to simply put this in your will or trust documents, since these may not be seen until days after death and burial.

“Make sure that your next of kin and your designated agent know of your wishes.

“Making thorough preparations ahead of time is important. An un-embalmed body can been cooled with gel packs or dry ice, but does not 'keep' long enough for detailed preparations to be made and carried out after a person’s death.”

As succinct as the webpage is, it is packed with good, clear information.

This isn't the only kind of green burial you can choose. The Urban Death Project has has made composting a new option for “safely and gently turn our deceased into soil-building material, creating a meaningful, equitable, and ecological urban alternative to existing options for the disposal of the dead.”

”Because death is momentous, miraculous, and mysterious
Because the cycles of nature help us grieve and heal
Because our bodies are full of life-giving potential”

There is much more information at the Urban Death Project website.

Many years ago, I decided on cremation. When I was forced to leave New York City nine years ago, I made it clear to those who would care when I die, that when I die my ashes should be quietly scattered at certain places in Manhattan. (Yes, yes, I know it's illegal. Too bad, and they agreed to do it.)

Now, however, as much I still like the idea of becoming a permanent part of the place on Earth I love more than any other, I have changed my mind. After doing all this research, I want my body to be returned to the Earth from whence it originally came – dust to dust – where it will help create new life.

Except, in terms of origin, Earth isn't quite it and there is another choice, athough it does involve cremation first. After that, Celestis, for a price, will

”...launch a symbolic portion of cremated remains into Earth orbit, onto the lunar surface or into deep space. Missions into space that return the cremated remains to Earth are also available.”

That deep space option is the ultimate return to home. Recall what astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells us – that we are all, literally, stardust:


As a wife of a husband who had to pay for 2 funerals for (1) his mother cremated 8 kids no one had one damn dime, and a brother (1) who died of aids no one had any money then or now either, direct cremation only one sister paid anything, then a 1/2 sister a bouquet never met her in my 41 years of marriage. I tell you I will not pay any funeral home one damn dime, out here in the Washington state one can have a natural burial it was announced on the tv one evening and I called the phone number was jammed, it will be done I said, no big expense whatsoever and no ruining Mother earth..The funeral business is a big billion dollar business intended to make lots of money off the grief of others..Well I am a hell raiser alive and I think I could be dead too, I enjoyed the HBO series Six feet under and my only gave me most of the dvd's she works in the film industry, she is a scorpio and so is my hubs they know about the afterlife and they know how to keep some money in their pockets and to tell you the truth I think the funeral business as crooked as the senators and congressmen/women who are in office and nothing to say of gambling casinos no less Native American at that, no siree Bob not one damn dime at a funeral home..This natural place asks gently for an offering and they do have regulations, it is so little and I have seen people and known people who have used their service, it is dignified and peaceful to Mother Earth..ciao!

I wish there was a way to reduce the carbon output from cremation, as cremation is my preference. More effective burning is possible these days in industrial situations, I believe, and maybe a crematorium could adopt newer methods?

Thanks for the info Ronni! Am going to check it out and make arrangements as possible! I like it - literally pushing up daisies :-)

Very interesting. Too bad I am just two payments away from paying for the cremation of both my wife and I. If I had it to do over I would definitely go with the green burial. I can at least share this wisdom with my kids for their future.

"Literally pushing up daisies." That is so good. I'm so jealous I didn't think of it.

Damn, I've got to rethink my plans to be cremated. If I had my way, I'd walk way out in the woods, die, and let the animals and bugs eat me.

Although I'm getting planted in the traditional manner (no embalming), here is a way for your remains to become a tree. They put your cremated remains in an urn with a sapling or something.

I do, however, have a problem with this. What happens if the tree gets cut down and turned into pulp which becomes part of the packaging for a BIG MAC, which probably had something to do with your demise in the first place.

I love this idea. The cost and the harm to the environment is considerable. And I love the idea of the shroud and returning to the earth as our bodies were intended and probably did for centuries - straight in and decomposing. Are there portions for perfumes and spices as the ancients did for their dead I wonder?

Okay, I'm sold. Now how do my loved ones get my body to the compost facility? It will smell really bad and could not be transported in that state.

I may have missed something, but there is no place on the "Urban Death" web site to tell you the cost of composting or where the body has to go.

I belong to the "National Funeral Alliance" and I will be cremated. The cost is only a small annual payment and under $1,000 for all expenses involved.

My backyard is too small to dig a grave and the Homeowners Association would not allow it, so I would have to buy a plot for a green burial. Unless I am missing something it's still too expensive for me or my heirs.

To find funeral directors in your area who do green burials, go to the link above for the Green Burial Council and click the "find a provider" link at the top of the page.

You can then contact a local green burial provider to ask questions and get details.

Composting is not available yet. You can find out more and sign up for a newsletter at the site link above.

I love this idea. My husband is already cremated, but I have the ashes. I wonder if they can be included in the biodegradable box I would use for myself, so we could "be together?" I really like the composting idea, but will probably be dead before its available near me. Like Jim, I'd really just like to go deep into the woods with his ashes along and vanish into the unknown along with the trees, birds and wildlife.

Wow! What an interesting subject. So glad you wrote about it Ronni. I have always thought that the whole funeral and viewing etc. is for the benefit of closure to relatives and friends. What a lovely way to include those people in a good bye surrounded by beauty and nature. I want to do this and our state has one specific place in it that I can find and that would be great. Husband wants to be cremated but may change his mind after I asked him if he really wanted his last wish to include polluting the earth more? It's OK-I wasn't being mean but we do have a special way of communicating after all these years. He just looked thoughtful about my question. Thank-you Ronni for always bringing us things to ponder and to act upon when it is brought to our attention that we do have choices. Jessie...

Having already paid in full for cremation, I can't change that now. However, this information is so there for the next generations in my family.

I will be getting it to them post haste.

Thank you, Ronni, and thank you to the people who are thinking and up-dating ideas that will help to at least prolong the earth's viability. There is so much we are doing that is killing the earth's very core as well as the atmosphere.

I regret that I will be adding to that, but maybe having driven a Prius for at least 12 years, using my air conditioner only in the day, keeping my thermostat on 60 at night in winter, recycling as much as I am allowed to, drinking water from my home faucet, never watering a lawn, washing clothes in cold water only, will make up for the pollution my cremation will cause.

Yes, very interesting topic. I didn't realize or truthfully had even thought of pollution cremation makes. More and more people I know personally are going that route.

I am planning on donating my body for medical research. Family knows all about it, it's down on paper. One question on the form was if I wanted my ashes returned to family for them to bury.

I don't know yet. Husband is older than I, he doubts if he would be here. Kids say, "whatever". So I am leaning to no.

It is very important to me not to put family and friends through anything more than necessary.

My husband's first wife passed several years ago. So Mr. Bruce has plot and nice stone waiting for him. It's really hard for me to see "beloved husband of Jane" under his name. I told him, didn't matter where my remains were that I want a small flat stone placed on the plot reading..
"MissDazey". That ought to puzzle the genealogists.

Living on land I love
already know I will be cremated and where the ashes will go. Like the Green idea.
Been to many funerals and the seats are filled with those
who rarely spoke to you.
Guess they are trying to find peace. Want no part of this
just my family and the woods.

With prior arrangements my mothers body was donated to a medical school for advancing science. The organization covered the cost of cremation.

Here, in Israel, Jewish bodies, wrapped in shrouds (no box) go straight into the earth within 24 hours. All citizens regardless of faith tradition are covered, with specific laws stipulating "extras". (Muslim, Druze, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestant Christians each have specific customs and requirements.) Crematoria in Israel is understandably a giant no-no, arousing images of concentration camps, where the Nazis used massive crematoriums to dispose of the bodies of their victims. While cremation is not legally permitted in Israel, some local outfits offer it; the hue and cry (including arsonists torching the crematoria), debate, and national conversation is ongoing. Me? Straight to the medical schools and labs for repurposing organs, cornea, whatever they can use for transplantations and education (practice;-)

Terrific idea, but it didn't come along in time for us--about 10 years ago we pre-purchased our cremation through The Neptune Society. No fuss, no feathers, no funeral for me! I considered donating my body to science; however, after a nurse friend told me about how bodies (esp. old ones) can be handled, I changed my mind. Even though "I" won't be there, I'd still like to be treated with some respect in death, silly though it may be.

I don't believe the VA is flexible about how one is buried. Yes, I'll be cremated, stuck along the edge of a road or in a wall with a bang....literally. No cost and within my budget.

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