There are three minimal requirements that are commonly used to describe a green burial:
No concrete or polypropylene grave liner was used;
The burial container or shroud is biodegradable; and
The body was not embalmed with toxic chemicals.
In other words, the body is being allowed to “go back to the earth” with as little interference as possible.
The Basics of Green Burial
The Green Burial Council certifies three levels of green burial (hybrid, natural and conservation) according to graduated requirements laid out in standards developed to ensure quality and consistency.
1. Do animals dig up the body?
There is no report of animals digging up a body after a green burial was performed at any cemetery in the US since the first green cemetery in the US was developed in 1998. Green burials require an 18-24 inch soil and smell barrier between the burial container or shroud and the surface of the ground.This depth of soil is more than sufficient to remove any smell that animals, much less humans, can detect.
2. Will the body contaminate the groundwater?
Contamination of groundwater is the single biggest concern that people give when opposing green burial. But it’s been well documented that the rare instances of contamination from cemeteries have been caused by the materials buried with the body, and not the body itself. In order to establish a cemetery in the first place, the area must be deemed suitable for burial by the local authorities and best practices should be followed. For example, most states provide setback parameters for water, buildings and roads for home burial that may give some guidance for best practices in green cemeteries.
3. Is green burial legal?
There are very few actual laws about burial anywhere in the US. However, there are many regulations and requirements imposed by individual cemeteries. Usually, when someone says green burial is illegal, the real issue is that the cemetery itself does not allow it. It’s of paramount importance to understand the difference between law and common practice or policy.
4. Who wants a green burial?
A recent Harris Poll conducted for the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC) said that 64 percent of people age 40 and over expressed interest in green burial. When families tap into this possibility, whole realms of meaning blossom within them to be able to connect with the death in a wholesome and healing way.
5. Can I be buried on my own property?
Apparently, other than the glib, “Just bury me and plant a tree!” this is a popular concept; you probably already know that the answer is a qualified yes, one may establish a family cemetery if one lives outside city limits, tests the soil for drainage, obtains a permit from the county health department (officials of which must be educated and encouraged in the process!), consults a lawyer, obtains a deed, and registers with the county registrar. State regulations determine the correct set-backs for water, highways, buildings, and right-of ways.
Green burial has become very popular in the last 10 years, younger generations grew up with recycling and composting and a strong sense of caring for the environment; they readily question conventional practices.
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