Green Burial Q & A
Why are green burials gaining favor?
- A wish to return to nature. Living—as well as dying—in a more organic, ecological way matters to us.
- Concern for the environment. We are becoming increasingly aware—and troubled—about our impact on the world.
- Respect for the human body. After death, we don’t want our bodies injected with toxic chemicals.
- Voicing our values. A natural burial makes a statement about what we held dear in life.
- Being part of something bigger than ourselves. Green burial grounds preserve the natural landscape for future generations to enjoy.
- Honoring both religious and nonreligious beliefs. We live in a world of diverse faith traditions, and a green burial respects this.
- A need for authenticity. We want to be truly present when a loved one dies. A green burial allows us to truly engage and create a more meaningful goodbye.
Where can I find a green-burial cemetery in Washington?
Currently in the state of Washington, we have three different kinds of cemeteries certified by the Green Burial Council. The Meadow, located in Green Acres Memorial Park in Ferndale a certified natural burial ground. In the town of Snohomish, Woodlawn Cemetery has The Green Section, and is a GBC certified hybrid ground.
In addition, Washington has the only wilderness cemetery in the country, the White Eagle Nature Preserve. It is a GBC conservation burial ground, located near the town of Goldendale and the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.
Committed people are working to create more “green burial” sites for the future.
Some rural and pioneer cemeteries in Washington allow natural “green” burial without a cement vault or liner.
What if there isn’t a green-burial cemetery in my state?
Green burials can occur in any cemetery where a concrete vault or liner is not required by cemetery policy. Remember, a green burial is simple. It only involves an unembalmed body, a biodegradable container, and a vaultless grave. Often rural and pioneer cemeteries do not require vaults or liners.
Because of increasing demand, some conventional cemeteries are designating parts of their land for green burials. In these special areas, uneven ground and a more natural environment are acceptable and even welcomed.
Call your local cemetery to ask if they are “hybrid-green” yet. The more they hear from the public, the more space will be offered that doesn’t require a concrete vault or liner. (Concrete supports the lawn and makes mowing easier).
Can I legally bury a loved one on my own property using the green burial approach?
In a word, no. You may only legally bury a body on private property in Washington state, if that property has been properly deeded (through the state of Washington) as a cemetery. The requirements to do so includes a $25,000 deposit to a trust that is held, in perpetuity, for the upkeep and ongoing maintenance of the property.
Many other states throughout the country allow for private landowners to bury their own dead on their land. Simply filing the latitude and longitude of the burial with the county official where the burial took place will suffice. Not in Washington state.
Can a burial still be “green” if a vault is required?
Yes. You can ask the cemetery to invert the vault. This allows the bottom of the grave to be exposed to the earth, while the top of the grave is concrete. (Visualize an upside-down, empty shoebox without its lid.)
This is a common request and “green” option, as several religious traditions already require the body to be buried in touch with the earth. We can assist you in reviewing other options with cemeteries requiring a vault.
What burial containers are considered biodegradable?
- Cloth shrouds made of natural fibers
- Simple pine caskets without special finishes or varnish
- Woven willow, sea grass, and bamboo caskets
- Handmade wood caskets from local artisans
These products can be obtained from their makers through A Sacred Moment. As the green movement grows, more and more beautiful products are being created, many with materials that can be sustainably harvested.
How are graves marked, if at all?
It depends on the cemetery. Some allow only natural objects as grave markers, such as a stone or tree, to minimize the environmental impact. Other cemeteries accept more conventional markers. More leading-edge cemeteries are using GPS and other technologies for families to locate unmarked graves.
What is conventionally buried along with our loved ones?
Here are estimates of what’s buried annually in the United States:
- 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid--enough embalming fluid to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools full of carcinogenic Formaldehyde
- 60,000 tons of steel (caskets)
- 1.6 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults) --enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from San Francisco to Kansas City
- 20-plus million board feet of wood (caskets) – or 77,000 trees Source: Green Burial Council, 2013
What’s the Green Burial Council?
This is an independent, tax-exempt, nonprofit organization working to encourage environmentally sustainable death care and the use of burial as a new means of protecting natural areas.
It established the world’s first standards and eco-certification for burial grounds, funeral homes, and burial products. The council maintains all relevant documentation, such as conservation easements and engineering reports. This demonstrates proof of compliance with GBC standards.
Washington’s three green burial cemeteries have all received eco-certification by the Council. A Sacred Moment is one of the Council’s approved funeral providers as well.
Does a green burial cost less than a conventional burial?
A typical green burial can cost less or the same as a regular burial. It depends on the choice of goods, services, and green burial plot.
The goods and services for green burials are relatively inexpensive. For example, a biodegradable casket or shroud usually costs less than a conventional casket, which is often made of metal or varnished hardwood. With no conventional chemical embalming, that cost is gone. Since there’s no concrete vault or liner, another cost is eliminated. In addition, natural markers, or no markers at all, cost a lot less than traditional markers.
Green burial plots, though, can be more expensive than some traditional plots. That’s because natural plots are usually larger, up to two times the size of traditional plots. In addition, more specific ongoing maintenance is required for unlined graves.