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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Green Burial    

Q. What is the definition of a green, natural, burial?

A. A green natural burial refers to an environmentally conscious and sustainable interment practice that avoids the use of embalming fluids, non-biodegradable materials, and concrete vaults. It involves laying the deceased to rest in a manner that allows for natural decomposition, utilizing biodegradable caskets, shrouds, or simply wrapping the body directly in a cloth. The aim is to minimize environmental impact, promote ecological balance, and foster a deeper connection with nature throughout the burial process. Green Burials may be certified by the Green Burial Council.

Q. What is required for a shroud burial? And are burial garments required?

A. A shroud burial is usually just that — a body wrapped in a biodegradable shroud lowered into a grave. While burial garments may be used, often by followers of certain religious customs, they are neither required or discouraged as a matter of course. Some shroud burials also include a casket for ease of processionals and lowering.

Q. How does a shrouded body get carried to the grave?

A. Yes, Sacred Grove provides either a cart or vehicle for transport to the grave site.  Some families choose to conduct a processional with pall bearers, either on shoulder for a casket or with carrying handles on a shrouding board for shroud burials.

Q. How deep does one place the body?

A. As a general rule, the ideal burial depth for optimal decomposition conditions is 3.5 – 4 feet from the bottom of the grave to the soil horizon, which also guarantees an 18-24 inch smell barrier that prevents animals, two and four legged both, from being able to smell anything. By adding the displaced soil to the top of the grave in a mound, that depth is doubled until it gradually settles. 

Q. Won’t wild animals dig up corpses?

A. No. Burials occur 3.5 feet under the ground with, at minimum, an 18-inch smell barrier. Animals are much more interested in living prey above ground than in working that hard. We’re just not that delicious.

Q. Won’t we be able to smell them?

A. No. Same principles apply. And remember this from 5thgrade science? Humans have a dismal sense of smell compared to animals. If they can’t detect bodies by scent, we surely won’t be able to either. Wild boar are the most deep-digging of all wildlife and they typically max out at 12 inches. They are usually more interested in investigating the freshly turned soil and marking their territory.

Q. Do green burials contaminate the water table or drinking water?

A. No. With burials at 3.5 feet deep, there is no danger of contaminating potable water that is found about 75 feet below the surface. Mandatory setbacks from known water sources also ensure that surface water is not at risk. 

Q. Do un-embalmed bodies pollute the ground with chemo or other drugs?

A. 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. We lose more toxic chemicals during a day of living than a whole body will decomposing. A 2018 Recompose study done by the University of Washington found that chemicals, heavy metals, and other potential biochemical concerns met or exceeded EPA levels by a significant margin. Additionally, embalming does not remove toxins from anywhere in the body except the fluids that are removed during the process.  

Q. How long does it take for a body to completely decompose?

A. Depending on soil type, oxygen availability, and moisture present, it takes on average 6 weeks to lose the majority of soft tissue through moisture absorption by the soil, and up to 2 years for complete decomposition. It may take up to twenty years for bones to absorb in moist soils.    

Q. Can bodies be buried in winter?

A. Yes

Q. How close together are the gravesites?

A. Green Burial Council requires less than 500 per acres which is ½ the normal allowance in a traditional cemetery. This allows for green space, trails, and a more natural setting.

Q. How does one mark the actual burial spot?

A. Graves are marked by GPS. Some other type of physical marker is possible as well, such as native plants, trees or shrubs, or a plain or engraved fieldstone.  

Q. What about memorialization?

A. Green burial sections do not allow upright monuments. Instead, a flat marker, usually made of native stone, is at the head. Using concrete to set stones is frowned upon in a green section, as concrete has its own significant environmental downsides. Flat markers make finding the grave and mowing the area relatively easy. Maintenance consists of removing overgrowth, if wished. Sacred grove may allow installation art pieces situated throughout the cemetery.  

Q. Can cremated remains be scattered in green burial cemeteries?

A. Yes, but cremated remains consist of calcium phosphate and sodium and are heavy, apt to smother foliage on the surface. Underground cremated remains create what is essentially a nutrient-deficient salt lick that has no environmental benefits. 

Q. What does it mean if a cemetery is Green Burial Council certified?

A. GBC certification allows consumers to be able to distinguish between the three types of cemeteries and understand that each has a different set of standards. It requires cemetery operators commit to a certain degree of transparency, accountability and third party oversight. And it prevents future owners from going back on whatever ecological or aesthetic promises have been made in the past, from limitations to burial density that protect a local ecosystem to prohibitions against the use of monuments that would negatively impact views. For more information on certifying with the GBC, go to Why Certification Matters and Become Certified. 

Q. What's wrong with embalming?

A. The Council does not think any end-of-life ritual, form of disposition, or mode of post-mortem preparation is "wrong". We are simply advocating for green services and products that help to minimize the environmental impact of our last acts. Embalming fluid is usually comprised of the carcinogen chemical formaldehyde, which has been proven to pose health risks in funeral homes. A study by the National Cancer Institute released in late 2009 revealed that funeral directors have a much higher incidence of myeloid leukemia. Another study completed in 2015 by the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry indicates a three times higher incidence of ALS, Lou Gherig's Disease, than in the general public. And the National Funeral Directors Association recently published NFDA Environmental Compliance officer Carol Lynn Green's opinion piece Excising a Health Risk where she predicts the end to embalming for safety reasons.  © Green Burial Council 2019, 7  

Q. What about essential oils and green embalming fluid?

A. Fortunately, there are now several formaldehyde-free embalming fluids, including one made entirely of nontoxic and biodegradable essential oils, which recently earned the GBC seal of approval. The sanitation and preservation of a decedent can almost always take place without the use of chemicals, as is done in just about every nation in the world. To find a green embalmer, go to Funeral Home Providers to locate a certified funeral director near you, or go to Product Providers to inquire of a product manufacturer. 

Q. How do I know that a particular product is suitable for a green burial?

A. The GBC believes a casket, urn, or shroud is suitable for a green burial if it is made from materials and substances that are nontoxic and readily biodegradable. We also require that these products not be made from materials that are harvested in a manner that unnecessarily destroys habitat. See Product Providers before purchasing any green funeral product. 

Q. Doesn’t cremation create a lot of pollution?

A. Cremation uses far fewer resources than conventional lawn burial with a vault but it certainly has an environmental impact. Cremation burns fossil fuels, and some older cremation facilities can use significantly more energy compared to newer ones. Mercury is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, but filtration devices that can fully mitigate mercury pollution have not been invented yet. While no standards yet exist that allow consumers to determine which cremation retorts produce fewer pollution and carbon emissions, there are several things that can be done to offset the carbon footprint of cremation, such as recycling medical parts, making a contribution to a carbon fund, or supporting ocean reef regrowth. 

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