Eco Funerals: Going Green in the Afterlife

The sad onslaught of recent Hollywood funerals for Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon and Billy Mays has made it hard not to think about end of life plans and the high environmental and monetary costs of conventional funerals.

With average funeral costs hitting upwards of $8,000, regular folks are faced with lots of costly and potentially environmentally harmful decisions. And while most of us won't be entering the afterlife in MJ's $25,000 14-karat gold plated casket, there are many methods to mark the passing of a life in meaningful ways without breaking the bank and adding to environmental woes.

Environmental Impact

Traditional funeral and burial practices have a clearly negative environmental impact. The Green Burial Council reports that every year the US buries 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 90,000 tons of steel, 30 million tons of hardwood (in caskets), and over 827,000 tons of toxic embalming fluid. Add to that the use of pesticides and fertilizers to maintain the manicured lawns of the average cemetery, and you've got a significant ecological impact in every town and city across the country and the world.

Green Funeral Tips

With over 56 million global deaths annually, the $15 billion dollar a year funeral industry is booming; but because more and more people are considering the impact their life has on our planet, funeral organizations have had to offer more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional funeral practices. So what are some of the main ways to go green in the afterlife? 

Make your green wishes known. Funeral planners recommend that everyone invest in making a living will – this is a legal document that clarifies your wishes about the way you want your funeral proceedings to be in the case of illness, incapacity or death.

Consider cremation. If you prefer cremation over burial, you're already making a green choice. Even though this method requires the burning of fossil fuels, the overall impact is considerably less than traditional burial. With cremation, you can opt to provide habitat for sea life through organizations like Eternal Reefs.

Forget the fancy casket. Don't use a concrete vault, metal or hardwood casket. Opt for a biodegradable plain wood, wicker or cardboard casket that can break down easily. There are also biodegradable urns for cremated remains – this allows for meaningful burial outside of traditional cemeteries, and some include flower seeds which provide a living memorial garden.

Look for a green cemetery. There are a few options for this. Hybrid burial grounds are like conventional cemeteries, but allow burial without vaults or embalming. Low impact or natural grounds require non-toxic containers and eco-friendly practices, plus they provide a more natural setting with native plants over manicured lawns. Conservation burial grounds and memorial preserves exist to provide a natural habitat and protected designation as a conservation area. Opt for a living marker like a tree or flowering shrub over a stone or metal marker.

Have a simple service. The cost of cut flowers and paper programs can add up. Consider asking friends and family to donate to a charity instead of sending cut flowers. Or, ask for only potted plants and flowers so they can be transferred to gardens afterwards. If you print programs or songbooks, make sure it's on recycled paper.

No one likes to think about the end of a life, but if you haven't considered your options and made a clear plan, you risk leaving a bigger environmental footprint and a lot of stressful decisions for your family.

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