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Traditional funerals and cremations can both have an impact on the environment. According to the Natural Death Centre the environmental cost of cremation is the same as a 500-mile car journey. It releases nearly half a tonne of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So it’s no surprise that more people are looking into green funerals to help reduce their impact on the environment.

Learn more about the principles of green funerals below and see if it’s the right fit for you or a loved one.

What is a green funeral?

Also known as an eco-friendly funeral, a green funeral is a funeral that has as little impact on the environment as possible. There’s no embalming so no harmful chemicals are used. And no cremation so that no emissions go into the atmosphere. Instead a green funeral typically features a green burial at a natural burial site. It’s all about going back to basics. Natural resources are protected instead of affected by the burial process. And the body returns back to nature with as little interference as possible.

What is a green burial?

A green burial or natural burial is when the person who died is buried in the most sustainable way possible without leaving behind any pollution or toxins. This means that a traditional coffin isn’t used. This is because traditional coffins often have metal handles or fixings that can be left behind for decades in the soil. Chemicals from varnishes used on traditional coffins can get into the soil and affect the plants or wildlife in the area too. So a biodegradable shroud or eco-friendly coffin is used instead. An eco-friendly coffin will break down and completely return to nature leaving no toxins behind that affect the soil.

What is a green burial site?

A green burial site is usually a privately owned green space like a meadow, private park or a woodland. Here, green funerals and burials can take place. Each green burial site will have its own rules about exactly what they can or can’t include as part of the burial. For example, many green burial sites won’t allow any permanent grave markers to be used. This is so that the natural plants and wildlife are left as undisturbed as possible. But some may allow the planting of a tree to mark the grave and remember the person who’s passed away.

What do green funerals include?

There’s no exact way to carry out a green funeral. Each one is different. But they’ll each aim to minimise the impact they have on the environment. Here are some features of a green funeral that you may want to consider if you’re planning one:

  • Choose a burial over cremation so no carbon emissions go into the atmosphere.
  • Choose a natural grave marker (or no grave marker at all) instead of a permanent memorial stone. This will leave natural habitats undisturbed.
  • Avoid embalming as it uses chemicals that can be left behind in the soil.
  • Use a biodegradable coffin made from natural materials. It’ll break down much quicker than a traditional coffin and eventually leave nothing behind.
  • Reduce the environmental impact of the funeral service itself. You can do this by carefully thinking about what you buy for the service, what flowers you use and how guests will travel there. Find more advice on how to plan a green funeral service below.

Eco-friendly funeral options to consider

If you’re putting together a green funeral you may not just be thinking about the burial. You may want to put together a service too. This could at the green burial site or it could be a get-together afterwards. There are a number of options to think about. And if you want to be as eco-friendly as possible here are a few ideas to help you plan a green funeral service:

Talk to a green burial site owner about your options

They’ll tell you what kind of green funeral services they can offer. It might give you some ideas about how to make the service more personal while keeping it as eco-friendly as possible. You could hire a celebrant to carry out a service at a nearby venue. Or you may prefer a short graveside service instead. Whichever option is right for you the green burial site owner you’re working with will help you figure out your options. They may be able to give you some advice on which eco-friendly coffin to choose for example. Or they’ll help you find a memory tree that’s native to the area to use as a living memorial. Talking with an expert will help you carry out a green funeral service that’s as environmentally friendly as possible.

Do your research on eco-friendly coffins and shrouds.

If you want to look into the best coffin to use for a green funeral talk with different providers and do your own research. A green burial in a biodegradable coffin reduces carbon emissions by 50% compared with traditional burials according to the Natural Death Centre. There are a variety of options when it comes to eco-friendly coffins, including cardboard, bamboo, willow, banana leaf, seagrass, rattan and wool. It’s not a legal requirement to use a coffin in the UK and some people choose a biodegradable shroud instead.

Choose flowers and memorials carefully

If you’re organising flowers for the funeral service check with the green burial site owner about any rules they have. Some don’t allow any flower displays or memorial trees to be planted at all. This is because they want to protect the plants and flowers that are native to the area. And they want to make sure that no plastics from flower displays are left behind too.

But that’s not to say that you can’t have flowers at a green funeral service. Use a florist who provides 100% biodegradable flowers so you know that nothing will be left behind. And check if you can plant a memorial tree that’s native to the area. That way, you’re not interfering with the ecosystem.

Stick to the essentials if you can

If you want to have a green funeral that’s as eco-friendly as possible you could choose not to have extras like order of service cards. If that’s not an option, print the order of service on recycled paper, or simply display it at the entrance to the ceremony on a blackboard. This will help to cut down on the amount of resources you use.

You could also ask guests not to send cards but donate to a charity instead. And instead of hiring vehicles ask them to car share if they’ll need transport to the venue.

Choose a meaningful way to remember a loved one

A green funeral gives you the opportunity to celebrate the life of a loved one in a meaningful way. If you’ve chosen a green funeral because you don’t want a traditional service then have a think about some other ways you can remember the person who’s passed away. Perhaps you could do a memory walk after the burial. This gives you the opportunity to chat to family and friends about your favourite memories of the person. Or perhaps you’d like to share a drink at your home with guests after the burial. You can make it as different as you like so that it fits the personality of the person who passed away.

Where can you have a green funeral?

The UK is home to around 270 protected woodland or natural burial ground sites. Each site protects its wildlife and woodlands and provides a natural location to remember someone who’s passed away. The Natural Death Centre offer independent funeral advice and list all green burial sites that are members of the Association of Natural Burial Grounds. This is a good place to start if you’re planning an eco-friendly funeral.

Planning a natural burial?

If so, you'll find our article about natural burial grounds in the UK helpful. Our list includes natural burial grounds across the UK to help you find one near to you.

Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash.