Our green funeral guide is here to help readers understand what it means to have a green or natural funeral, as well as what can be done to reduce the carbon footprint of any type of funeral service. We will cover the types of green and natural funerals available, as well as the reasons you may choose to plan one for yourself or for a lost loved one.
What is a green funeral?
A green funeral is the perfect option for someone who wants to minimise the environmental impact of their passing, taking preference to the concept of giving back to nature. Also known as eco-friendly or environmentally friendly funerals, a green funeral goes back to basics, opting for burial over cremation, refrigeration over embalming, woodland burial sites over graveyards and biodegradable coffins. Those who wish to go the extra mile can also request that guests carpool with other funeral attendees and even give charitable donations in place of flowers.
Key aspects of a green funeral include:
- Avoiding permanent memorial stones
- Opting for burial sites that serve a conservation purpose
- Avoiding cremation
- Avoiding embalming as it uses chemicals
- Avoiding non degradable coffin materials
- The grave no longer commemorates the life lived, instead the entire site does
- Minimising environmental impact of the funeral itself
- Encouraging attendees to carpool
- Limiting waste, reducing carbon footprint and nourishing the local ecosystem
Why do people choose to have a green funeral?
Traditional funerals and cremations can both have an impact on the environment. According to naturaldeath.org.uk the environmental cost of cremation is the equivalent of a 500 mile car journey, releasing nearly half a tonne of CO2 into the atmosphere. Traditional burials can have a smaller impact on the environment but often involve embalming of the body and attendees travelling great distances. In addition to the more obvious environmental implications of traditional cremations and burials, there is also the issue of space. Natural burial grounds can host significantly more burials than cemeteries where the entire site acts as the commemoration for the life lived, rather than a headstone.
Where can I have a green funeral?
The UK is home to around 270 protected natural woodland or natural burial ground sites, with each site protecting the flora, fauna and natural woodlands, providing a beautiful location to remember a life lived. The Natural Death Centre, who offer independent funeral advice, list all sites that are members of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds. You can view this list here.
Eco-friendly woodland Burials
A woodland burial site is usually set within acres of beautiful natural woodland and surrounded by countryside. Headstones or permanent, non-natural materials are not permitted, instead trees or plants are used as memorials to remember a life lived. Woodland burial sites prohibit embalming, preventing harmful formaldehyde from entering the ground, protecting the site and surrounding wildlife.
Green funeral ceremonies
Woodland burials and green funerals are often flexible and accommodating. As with a traditional funeral, you can choose your own hymns, readings and celebrants. Being set in a beautiful woodland presents new options for the ceremony, with some choosing to do a memory walk and others opting for a biodegradable memorial, e.g. planting a tree. It is important to note that any flowers or items left by attendees will be cleared to ensure the site remains completely natural.
Eco friendly and green coffins
Green funerals often involve the use of a biodegradable coffin made from cardboard, willow, rattan or bamboo. Bamboo is a sustainable alternative to wood which grows quickly and cardboard coffins, which can come in a variety of colours and designs, are made from recycled paper. It is not actually a legal requirement to use a coffin in the UK and some people may opt for sheets or a shroud as an alternative.
Other ways to reduce carbon footprint
When arranging a green funeral, you need to also consider the environmental impact of transport for attendees and CO2 emissions from the importing and shipping of disbursements. At a green funeral, guests are encouraged to carpool, and the organiser will often try to only source local materials. In some cases, guests are asked for charitable donations instead of bringing flowers.