[KEEN TO BE GREEN] Options for an Eco-Afterlife?

Meher McArthur

As we approach Halloween, we pay more attention to graveyards than perhaps at other times of the year, but the traditional graveyard may soon meet its own demise. Recently, as our resources become scarcer and more people become conscious of the waste and potential toxicity of traditional burials, more people are turning to natural burials.

In most burials in the United States, bodies are embalmed, often using chemical substances such as formaldehyde, a smelly gas that, according to the EPA, can “cause adverse health effects.” Caskets are often constructed from hardwoods, steel, copper and bronze and vaults are typically built of steel and concrete—all materials that are dwindling as the world’s population booms. Even cremations, which I had assumed were more eco-friendly, also involve wooden caskets and emit such noxious substances as carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

According to the Natural Burial Association of California, “a natural burial is the act of returning a body as naturally as possible to the earth.” The body is not embalmed or cremated but instead buried in a simple, biodegradable casket or shroud in a hand-dug grave in a protected green space. Many green burial providers work with the Green Burial Council, which partners with land trusts and park service agencies to help provide green burials.

With some thoughtful planning ahead with such providers, it is possible to arrange for a tree to be planted to mark a grave instead of a headstone—less spooky at Halloween perhaps, but far less scary for the environment too.

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