What is a Green Funeral?
There has been much excitement about green funerals and natural burials, as many people want a funeral that is as natural as possible.
Some feel that they do not want to add pollution to the environment, whilst others want to know that their body becomes part of the earth and contributes to the cycle of life after their death. Some find great beauty in the natural world, and would like their death and their funeral to belong to this realm as closely as possible.
A green funeral usually involves a coffin made of natural, simple, biodegradeable materials and burial in a natural burial ground or on private land. As well as the coffin (or shroud) being made of biodegradable materials, what the person is dressed in should also be considered.
Usually there is no headstone or permanent marker on the grave but in a few sites a memorial tree may be planted. Other sites are designed as parkland, so do not have a tree for each person, and will remain as meadowland. Depth of grave is also a consideration. Green burial grounds will be at a shallower depth to allow for increased aerobic activity and therefore faster, more efficient breakdown. There will also be less methane released.
A wider aspect of green funerals is often the feeling that death is a natural part of life, and as such it may be more openly discussed.
So when we talk about a green funeral, we usually mean burial. But can you have a ‘green cremation’? While standards have improved in recent years, cremation is far from being a carbon-neutral process. But there are ways in which you can ‘do your bit’. A funeral imbued with the values, simplicity and beauty of the natural world: a woven coffin, a less formal service, local, seasonal flowers, involvement from the family – all these can provide great comfort that the values of the person who has died have been upheld, but consistent with their wish to be cremated.
What is involved?
Generally speaking, people who choose a green funeral want to be more involved in the planning and carrying out of the funeral and to bring their own creativity, ideas, and care to the whole process.
This might involve helping in the preparation of the person’s body, and certainly in the design, content, and delivery of the funeral ceremony itself – for example, the possibility of filling in the grave themselves.
Even if Family Tree Funeral Company is not being used as the funeral director, we encourage the attitude that every aspect of the process following a death is an important part of the ceremony, and can involve those closest to the person who has died, and this includes involving children.
Helpful information when planning a green funeral
Family Tree Funeral Company supports reduced consumption of both energy and materials in our lavish culture. We can recommend coffins, liners, transport and burial and cremation practices that use less energy and fewer chemicals in their manufacture, and more easily revert to their natural state.
The environmental impact from traditional funeral practices can be reduced; but it is a complex subject. For example, bamboo that is harvested from wilderness areas of China – eating into the shrinking habitats of tigers and panda bears – may be environmentally less friendly than local willow.
In this choice, as in so many environmental decisions, there is usually an extra financial cost to consider. We are learning and asking questions, as are our suppliers, and this is without doubt a crucially important enquiry, one with which we can each be actively engaged.
There are other difficult environmental decisions to be made. There are times when embalming (with its carcinogenic formaldehydes) provides the temporary preservation that allows a family the breathing space that is needed for a proper farewell to happen. In most circumstances, the embalming process and its associated products would be clearly avoided.
It’s not all ‘damage limitation’ however. A positive contribution can be made by burial on a natural burial site, where green space is enriched, and supports a diverse wildlife habitat, preserved from extensive building projects or genetically-modified crops.
We are happy to be involved and talk with you about the ecological aspects of the funeral, and will work to arrive at a solution that is both right for you and which takes account of a time beyond our own.
How green is your coffin?
A traditional ‘standard’ coffin is made from woodchip, bonded with formaldehyde glues with injection-moulded plastic (looks like gold) handles. However, many coffins are made from natural and easily biodegradable materials, such as woven willow, pandanus fibre, water hyacinth, banana leaf, bamboo, or timber grown from sustainable sources.
For burial only you can also have a simple bamboo or felted woollen shroud (whose fabric can be obtained organically grown). You can see examples of our burial and cremation coffins here.
Local burial sites
Although there is still some space available in Brimscombe Cemetery’s ‘Meadow’ strip, the area around Family Tree Funeral Company is, surprisingly for Stroud, not particularly well served for natural burial grounds. However, various individuals and organisations are actively pursuing land suitable for local natural burial grounds in the belief that this not only meets the strong desire to have our dead buried close to the communities in which we live, but is also a valuable contribution to the environment.
The green burial site at Brimscombe is a bit hard to find and almost full, but quiet, and beautiful – though steep! It is the un-consecrated part just below the top path of this local cemetery It is run by Stroud District Council.
While it is not designated a green burial site, the cemetery at the end of Horn’s Road offers an extremely peaceful place for burial. There is plenty of wildlife and individual graves can be kept in a natural state. It is run by Stroud Town Council.
Other natural burial grounds
Residents of Slimbridge can avail themselves of the site at the far end of the new natural burial area of their cemetery. Local crematoria Gloucester, Cheltenham and Westerleigh all offer a ‘green’ burial area. More distant but arguably more attractive are ‘Greenfields Woodlands of Remembrance’ looking towards the Malvern Hills near Staunton GL19 3NZ, and a fine upland meadow looking over to the White Horse Vale at Westmill Woodland Burial Ground near Coleshill, SN5 8TH.
We keep information on some burial sites outside of our own local Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset area, but for a full and up-to-the-minute list you should refer to The Natural Death Centre on 0207 359 8391, or visit their website at www.naturaldeath.org
Almost three-quarters of people in this country are cremated; while there are new and increasingly stringent controls on cremator emissions and insulation, (with considerable extra investment required), crematoria still use large amounts of natural gas, and produce significant – although much improved – emissions (a degree of atmospheric dioxin, and some mercury gas – from the amalgum in our fillings).
On the plus side, no extra land is used up, they are increasingly better regulated for emissions, and all crematoria now recycle the artificial hips, knees, elbows, and other metal body implants that remain after the ashes have cooled, rather than all being buried together in a special grave. (Titanium implants are now sold with the monies donated to charities).
Local crematoria require funeral directors to sign a declaration that there are no PVCs, plastics, fibreglass, styrofoams, zinc or rubber products in the coffin or in the clothing. Many crematoria now have a monitor that can detect such products while they are burning.
Greener ways to go in the future
‘Alkaline hydrolysis’, ‘Resomation’ or ‘water cremation’ is a process of breaking down the body using heat, pressure, and potassium hydroxide to create a sterile liquid and a bone powder. Its carbon footprint is said to be seven times less than flame cremtaion. It is operating in 19 US states, and is currently being considered by various UK cemetery authorities. See https://resomation.com/ for more information
A method which may see further implementation is Promession, which was developed in Sweden and is legal there. This largely organic process freezes the body, vibrates it, dries the resulting granule particles and removes all the metals. The remains can be buried in a biodegradable coffin which can be buried at a depth where the micro organisms break it all down inside a year, or used as a compost ingredient or mulch. It is not yet legal in the UK and is still being considered in the US.
The company Recompose have recently had their progressive method approved in Washington State. Recomposition gently converts human remains into soil. Heat-loving microbes and bacteria break down the body – including bones and teeth – over a period of 30 days.
More organic ways of dealing with a person’s body after they have died are definitely on the way – although open-air cremations are unlikely to feature locally.