Green Goodbyes

Forever in Your Heart, Not on Earth

Couple watching Earthrise from bench

It can be a difficult subject to broach: what to do when your time comes to an end here on earth. Before my grandma died several years ago, I tried to delicately learn what her end-of-life wishes were, but she refused to talk about death. This made it incredibly difficult to plan her funeral or carry out her last wishes. When the time came, I arranged her funeral and did the best I could to make the decisions I thought she would make if she had planned ahead. Everything turned out beautifully, but I couldn’t help but think how much more smoothly things would have gone if we had a plan. I began to do my own research so hopefully my loved ones could carry out my last wishes with minimal stress—and if possible, minimal impact on the environment. Here are several eco-friendly options if you would like the treatment of your physical remains to reflect your green lifestyle.

Simple Casket

Simple Burial

Still practiced today, simple burials in wooden coffins are a relatively eco-friendly option. Lumber can be sustainably grown and harvested, and the live trees sequester CO2 from the air. Plain pine caskets do not have chemical finishes, but they can be customized with biodegradable finishes and compostable fabrics. Some companies will even plant more trees if you pledge to use a plain pine casket. Simple wooden caskets are also less expensive than traditional ones, which is often helpful during times of financial strain brought on by funeral planning.

Wicker Casket

Woven Casket

Similar in size and shape to a traditional casket, the woven casket is both beautiful and biodegradable. Woven like a basket, the caskets are handcrafted with sustainable materials to leave a smaller environmental footprint. They are comparable in price to a traditional commercial casket and come in many different sizes and styles to fit your needs.

Legs standing in ocean waves

Aquamation

Only legal in 15 states, California included,  aquamation is starting to gain acceptance in America. The process is this: Remains are submerged in a solution of mostly water and a small amount of alkali. The solution is heated, allowing the body to shed everything but bone and metal. The liquid is then treated like any other waste water or can be used as fertilizer. There are no emissions, less electricity is used, no land plot is necessary, and it costs approximately the same as cremation. While some have argued this is akin to “flushing” a loved one, this process merely accelerates the natural decomposition process.

Mushroom Burial Suit

Mushroom Burial Suit

As the saying goes, we are dust and to dust we shall return. This is particularly true with the  mushroom burial suit. With this nontraditional approach, a “suit” is made with organic cotton and has mushroom spores woven into the fabric that will detoxify and consume remains (human or pet). It costs approximately the same as a commercial casket, but it offers a more environmentally friendly way to return to the earth—and it even provides nutrients to grow more life.

Burial Pods

Burial Pods

Proof that life never truly ends is especially evident with the  burial pod. Designed in Italy but available and legal in the United States, burial pods are similar to mushroom suits in that they fuel more life, but in this case they feed trees instead of mushrooms. Currently only available for ashes (though plans to encapsulate a full body are in the works), the pods are buried and a tree is planted on top of it to gain nutrients from the remains. Additionally, the tree can serve as a memorial of your loved one while also cleaning the air. Burial pods are significantly less expensive than a traditional commercial casket. (As an aside, traditional cremation is not considered eco-friendly at this point due to the energy used and the harmful chemical emissions generated in the process.


If your goal is to reunite with the earth naturally and live as a beautiful memory in the hearts of your loved ones, an eco-friendly option might be for you. While nontraditional, green funerals are still a great way to celebrate your life or the life of a cherished friend or family member. There are a number of difficult, important decisions to make when laying a loved one to rest, but if it can be done with less impact on the environment, that’s certainly a good thing.

 

— TC Clark
Posted on Aug 2, 2018

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Summary: It can be a difficult subject to broach: what to do when your time comes to an end here on earth. Here are several eco-friendly options if you would like the treatment of your physical remains to reflect your green lifestyle.