Ask Eartha: Green burials rising in popularity |

Ask Eartha: Green burials rising in popularity

Dear Eartha,

My family celebrates the Day of the Dead or el Día de los Muertos on Nov. 1. This holiday is meant to celebrate our loved ones who have died and it got me thinking. I know this may sound morbid but what are some green burial options for me and my loved ones when we die? — Maria from Dillon Valley

Thanks for the question, Maria. People often get a little squeamish when the subject of death comes up; especially when we talk about various options for the remains. Unlike other cultures where remembering the dead is part of a tradition on Nov. 1, American culture avoids the subject to the point where it has practically become taboo to talk about death and dying.

Consider a natural burial ground such as a nature preserve or forest. Green cemeteries have strict guidelines on sustainable coffins and ban chemical embalming.

Regardless of whether you want to talk about it or not, what becomes of your remains is a necessary conversation for you and your loved ones to have. It’s important to be prepared and have a plan for your body when you pass away because you never know what may happen. Leaving a will that spells out what you would like to have done with your remains is a great way to prepare. At the very least, let your family know what to do with your body after you die.

Believe it or not, green burials are not a new concept. In fact, in the documentary “Dying Green,” Kimberly Campbell, wife of Dr. Billy Campbell who created the Ramsey Creek preserve for green burial sites in Westminster, South Carolina, stated that “burials without embalming, in a biodegradable container with no vault is thousands of years old.” It wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that burials began to change in the United States when the process of death and dying moved out of the home and into hospitals and funeral homes.

Another process that became popular was embalming, or draining the body of blood and pumping it with various chemicals to slow down the process of decomposition. This practice started during the Civil War when the bodies of soldiers were shipped home and the corpses needed to be preserved for transport. Even though embalming is not required by law, it is still standard practice in burials. Furthermore, many people are unaware that embalming does not completely deter the decomposition process but only slows it down.

Post-mortem preparation is for some, an important end-of-life ritual and there are ways to sanitize and preserve a decedent without the use of chemicals. Most embalming fluid contains a combination of formaldehyde, methanol and other solvents. Formaldehyde is an irritant, allergen and a carcinogen. Methanol is also toxic to humans. These chemicals can eventually leach into the soil and even the ground water near the buried body. If embalming is important to you, I recommend choosing non-toxic, biodegradable essential oils.

Mainstream burials also use a lot of natural resources. According to One Green Planet, 30 million feet of hardwood caskets are buried in U.S. cemeteries. Beyond wood, 90,000 tons of steel caskets, 14,000 tons of steel vaults, and over 2,500 tons of copper and bronze are buried. These burials are much more costly too with the price of an average burial costing between $6,000 and $10,000. Whereas a green burial only costs between $500 to $1,000.

So back to your question regarding options for “green” burials. Consider a natural burial ground such as a nature preserve or forest. Green cemeteries have strict guidelines on sustainable coffins and ban chemical embalming. Check out the Green Burial Council website for funeral homes and cemeteries that have been certified. GBC is a third-party green burial certification and those who have been certified will contain the GBC logo. Also check out the Natural End website and look for burial services that have taken the Natural End pledge. Crestone cemetery was the first natural cemetery in Colorado. Prairie Wilderness cemetery and Evergreen Memorial Park are two other options if you’re looking for a Colorado burial. Natural Transitions in Boulder offers family directed funeral assistance for green burials.

As far as eco-friendly caskets go, you have a variety to choose from. Compakta coffins are made from carton-board and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and Ecocoffin is made from recycled cardboard. Search for coffins made out of bamboo, wicker and other renewable resources. Nature’s Casket, The Natural Burial Company and Creative Coffins are other companies that make sustainable coffins and urns.

Cremation is another option and by far a greener choice over mainstream burials. Keep in mind, though that cremation releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Consider being cremated without a coffin or at the very least without a treated wooden coffin. Treated wood when burned can release airborne toxins including dioxin (a known carcinogen), hydrochloric acid and sulphur dioxide. Check out some other creative and sustainable burials such as Crestone’s funeral pyre or “open-air cremation.” There’s also a burial at sea. Regardless of which method you do choose, remember it’s your choice, and hopefully this helps you if you’re dying to be a little greener.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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