I’ve heard that increasing eco-awareness around the world has now extended itself to the afterlife, whereby burials can even be “green.” Is that true?
—Mary Lewis, Duxbury, MA
Modern western-world burial practices are arguably absurd, all things considered: We pack our dearly departed with synthetic preservatives and encase them in impenetrable coffins meant to defy the natural forces of decomposition that have been turning ashes to ashes and dust to dust for eons. And in the process we give over thousands of acres of land every year to new cemetery grounds from coast to coast.
According to National Geographic, American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.
But increasing demand for more natural burial practices has spawned changes in the industry, and dozens of funeral homes and cemeteries across the country have started to adopt greener ways of operating. Many of these providers are members of the non-profit Green Burial Council, which works “to make burial sustainable for the planet, meaningful for the families, and economically viable for the provider.”