Natural Green Burial are more Trending then ever before
Green burials are a growing trend in death care today in the United States. Though they have long been fairly popular in other developed nations of the world, the idea of all natural burials has been relatively slow to catch on in the United States. Critics say this is likely the result of a highly profitable and – and quietly very powerful – death care industry that depends upon the people of the United States continuing to prefer lavish, marble sculptures, metal caskets, and well-manicured (i.e., intensely monitored for herbal and animal pests who are kept under control with machines, pesticides and herbicides that are usually not in keeping with a harmonic balance of natural) lawns, as the best way to remember their deceased. While there are no reliable statistics kept which proponents of green funerals can point to in their claims that green funerals are growing in popularity in the early 21st century, there is much anecdotal evidence to support such claims: a number of environmentally focused groups and families have taken the initiative in recent months and years to set aside relatively large sloths of land for green burials. These areas, including one in Texas that will provide green burial spaces for up to 3,000 bodies, typically resemble forests – in fact, they really are forests – in which the bodies of deceased humans can be allowed to decompose naturally as, many say, God always intended. One imagines that this is just the kind of final resting place that the legendary naturalist David Henry Thorough would have loved, and many say it is a testament and tribute to Trough’s very legacy that these places are becoming more and more prevalent today in places all across the United States. This article will lay the foundations for the uninitiated on this age-old tradition of green burial which seems to be becoming the trend of the future across the world and the United States alike.
Truly Green Burials
The first thing to know about green burials is that there are a variety of levels of what green really means. A truly green burial, in the strictest sense, may not be exactly what a person who is interested in a green burial really wants, so it's important to describe exactly what a truly green burial entails. A truly green burial is one in which a body is buried in a very remote and natural place, in a grave dug by men with shovels (as opposed to mechanized tools such as tractors and backhoes). The grave is often much more shallow than the traditional 6 feet that is the standard in traditional cemeteries, and the body is usually wrapped only in a thin sheet. (Sometimes the body is not wrapped in anything, though the thought of covering a person's face directly with dirt tends to stop even the most ardent of green burial advocates from adopting this approach except in exceedingly rare instances.)
As one might expect, a truly green burial typically involves no headstone or other marker by which to identify the grave site. In less technologically inclined times, those who buried the deceased would often simply make note of distinct land marks (such as trees, boulders, and even streams) and assure that the location of the grave was duly recorded in writing filed in a location where it could be easily found by historians and other curious souls of the future who may be looking for the eternal resting place of a particular person. (Though, since a person's body will decompose much more quickly in a green burial as opposed to a traditional burial, the likelihood of the location being anything more than a ceremonial spot after a few years is very remote. Except in the coldest of regions, where insect life is the least abundant, a human body can be expected to decompose entirely into ashes within as little as a year after death. Of course, as anyone involved with cremation can testify, the exact amount of time required for full decomposition varies greatly by individual and is largely unpredictable.) One important thing to note on this regard about green burials is that there is significant risk in most truly green burials that a body will be exposed – in just a partially decomposed state – by the busy workings of animals in the forest. In some cases, those who have opened cemeteries devoted to truly green burials have begun to develop sturdy – but biodegradable – containers for the bodies in their care. These containers will eventually break down along with the rest of the body, but the decomposition will happen long after the parts of a body that would be of interest to an animal looking for a meal have broken down themselves. So, while this feature may not be of interest to purists of the green burial movement – those who are fine with accepting the risks that a body might be unceremoniously unearthed by animals – is nevertheless is considered a fairly routine part of truly green burial – so long as the deceased and the family agree, of course.
As we mention above, and elsewhere, in this article, the hallmark of a truly green burial features very little of the modern conveniences that people in the United States have come to expect from cemeteries. Well maintained paths leading to a grave site are rare, as are headstones and other grave markers. And decorations such as flowers are usually not allowed to be planted in a cemetery devoted to green burials. About the only feature that truly green cemeteries may typically allow related to modern technology is global positioning. Often exact global positioning system coordinates of a grave are recorded, both in writing and in digital format, and these coordinates are filed in a cemetery headquarters – or maybe in a family history library – for reference long into the future. It is also the case that some green cemeteries even develop relatively sophisticated websites with maps that respond to a user's mouse roller-over by popping up a window showing a biography (usually, but not always brief) of the deceased. These same websites have been known to include features in which the biography displays itself automatically – simply based on a user's own GPS coordinates as tracked by a cell phone – when a person walks by a particular grave while carrying his or her phone.
Other Green Burial Options
For those who might not be quite so interested in the “roughing it” nature of a truly green burial, there are plenty of other options available. Many traditional cemeteries these days have responded to the (perceived but not fully documented) increase in popularity of green burials by offering a lot of their own green options. Chief among these are caskets and headstones that are biodegradable. These options may not be available directly from the cemetery itself, but families working with traditional cemeteries should be aware that they exist and are available (usually from online retailers). It may be the case that a cemetery staff might not invite the use of these green burial accessories as part of the services they may be required to plan for a family, but families should not be shy about letting the cemetery staff know that they prefer to use green burial products if that is how they feel. In most cases, green products that are amenable to cemetery rules can be located and purchased with only a little extra work (and often a significant amount of savings).
The true intent of any green natural burial – whether it be truly green as described in the previous section or not – is to simply keep one's environmental tread print as small as possible. And one way that individuals and families have discovered to do this is through cremation, perhaps the ultimate of green burial options, since it involves returning a body to the promised state of “ashes and dust” as quickly as possible. Many traditional cemeteries now offer “scattering gardens” in which a loved one's memory may be memorialized on a small metal plaque – not a green product, of course, but small enough that it serves as a good compromise for those who may not be as committed as the most ardent observers of the green burial tradition. The plaque is usually placed with the others near the entrance of the garden, and families are invited to scatter their loved one's ashes anywhere amidst the garden's (usually lush) landscaping. The alternative to truly green burials remains an environmentally friendly practice because it does not involve the use of a non-biodegradable metal casket or a large headstone that will last through the centuries. That said, this type of green burial does typically involve a bronze plaque and a great deal of pesticides and herbicides that will, of course, be used to maintain the plush landscaping that is generally expected in a scattering garden. All-in-all, many families prefer this method of green burial to the all-natural approach that a truly green burial would take. (A truly green burial may be seen, by many people, as too savage for their tastes. That is not the intent, of course, but it may well end up being the perception by those who are indoctrinated in our modern society that expects things to be manicured and neat looking.)
Another alternative to truly green burials is a truly green cremation scattering experience. The advent of biodegradable urns has made this option possible in the recent years, and those who want an environmentally disposal of a body are turning to it more and more as death care industry sales figures show. Though biodegradable urns are available in a huge variety of styles and materials, the most popular of these urns are the ones intended to float on a body of water for a few moments (usually up to about a half hour) before gradually becoming saturated with water and sinking to the bottom where they will then fairly quickly decompose under the sea. These environmentally friendly urns make burial at sea much more green than some traditional sea burials in which a person's metal casket is simply tossed (or ceremonially lowered) into the sea and allowed to sink – sometimes as much as 5 miles – to the bottom where it will be maintained quite well for centuries.
Are Green Burials Better than Traditional Burials?
This article would not be complete without a section briefly addressing the question that is likely on most reader's minds from the very beginning: are natural green burials better than traditional burials?
The answer to that, unfortunately, is not simple. It is as complex as the sociological debates that happen routinely with just about every new development by man. In centuries past, nearly all burials were green by necessity. The idea of metal caskets, for example, is only about 150 years old as of this writing. So families of a loved one who had passed away often had no option but to bury the beloved relative in a hand-dug grave, filled with a simple (definitely degradable) wood coffin and marked by a wooden grave marker that would quickly wither away to nothing. The desire for a more permanent memorial site led, of course, to the advent of what we now call “traditional” burials, featuring metal caskets and stone monuments. But the thought of being a permanent blot on the earth's environment is not appealing to many people, and, thus, green burials have made a comeback in recent years.
In the end, of course, the choice of green vs. traditional is mostly a matter of a person – and a family's – attitude and values. But it also may be a matter of finances. A green burial, in most cases – especially if it is done in a cemetery that has little need of “perpetual care” maintenance and does not have any frills to maintain – is much less expensive than a traditional burial. And, in fact, that may end up being the main selling point of a green burial. Few relish spending more than is necessary on a burial, and traditional funerals, critics will often allege, often cost much more than is necessary.