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Green (Natural) Burial frequently asked questions

What is natural burial? Natural burial is a way of caring for the dead as we have for centuries. It involves minimal environmental impact. The body is laid to rest in a grave in a biodegradable box or wrapped in a shroud without using concrete, plastic, or fiberglass vaults and with no embalming. Often the natural burial occurs in a designated area of a conventional cemetery.

Why choose a natural burial? Natural burial appeals to anyone who desires an exit that is in line with the way they have lived their life, what they valued, and what they believe to be authentic to their experience. It provides families with a rich, meaningful, and healing experience.

Why offer this alternative to conventional burial practices? More and more people who have supported environmental causes and recycled their entire adult lives are looking for choices when it comes to their final legacy. They are concerned with the environmental impacts of conventional burial and the hazards to workers’ health.

Each year in conventional cemeteries the US buries over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 4.3 million gallons of toxic embalming fluid, 17,000 tons of copper, and 64,500 tons of steel. Natural burial does not use any of these materials.

Embalmers have an 8x higher risk of contracting blood diseases such as leukemia and 3x higher risk of ALS. Groundskeepers are more than twice as likely to develop Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Both are exposed routinely to chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological diseases.

Why not choose cremation? Almost 50% of Americans are now choosing cremation because it is less costly and a simpler process. This is having significant financial impact on conventional cemeteries. Cremation also has serious environmental concerns.

Each body that is cremated:

Is there any problem with graves being disturbed by animals? No. burials occur 3.5 to 4 feet under the ground with, at minimum, an 18 to 24 inch smell barrier. This depth of soil is more than sufficient to remove any smell that animals, much less humans, can detect. To date, there have been no reports from any US green burial cemetery of animals trying to dig up graves.

Do unembalmed bodies pollute the ground with chemo or other drugs? Soil is the best natural filter there is, binding organic compounds and making them unable to travel. Microorganisms in the soil break down any chemical compounds that remain in the body.

Do natural burials contaminate the water table or drinking water? No. With burials 3.5 to 4 feet deep there is no danger of contaminating potable water. No contamination has been reported from or near any green cemeteries in the US, Canada, Great Britain, or Australia since their inception in 2003.

With conventional burials the chemicals and metals in the body, vault, and casket pose a larger threat to water sources than with natural burial. Metal caskets leach heavy metals. Varnished wood with sealants leaches arsenic and other harmful chemicals. Vaults made of concrete, plastic, fiberglass, or asphalt off-gas and leach pollutants. Synthetic or inorganic materials used in the manufacture of clothing, casket liners, dyes, and plastics further contribute to soil contamination.

How are graves marked? It varies by cemetery but graves are typically marked with some type of physical marker such as plain or engraved fieldstone.


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Most recently updated 2018-09-05
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