Frequently Asked Questions
- What is green burial?
- Is green burial legal?
- How can green burial bring about restoration or conservation?
- What's so bad with a green cemetery that isn't certified?
- What's wrong with embalming?
- What are the environmental issues associated with vaults?
- Is cremation an eco-friendly form of disposition?
- What is a home funeral and how does it differ from a home burial?
1. What is green burial?
Green burial is burial that can take place without the use of formaldehyde-based embalming, metal caskets, and concrete burial vaults. It's essentially the way most of humanity has cared for its dead for thousands of years up until the late 19th century. In some instances, green burial can also be used to facilitate ecological restoration and landscape-level conservation.
2. Is green burial legal?
Yes. Except in cases of very rare diseases, such as cholera, there is nothing in federal, state or local law that requires embalming, caskets, grave markers, burial vaults or grave liners. (However, some funeral directors and cemetery operators may imply that these items are required by law, because sales of these services increases their profits.) In addition, burial vaults and liners reduce land settling on grave sites and, thus, make it easier to mow the grass, so traditional cemeteries may require them for this reason. Unembalmed bodies must be buried within 24-hours or be refrigerated, but certified green funeral homes provide refrigeration services.
3. How can green burial bring about restoration or conservation?
The Green Burial Council requires that its certified conservation burial grounds engage in both restoration planning and stewardship. Our Natural Burial Grounds are required to have in place a deed restriction to ensure that a green cemetery now remains one in the future. GBC Conservation Burial Grounds are required to have a conservation easement held by an established land trust. The key to success we believe is in requiring transparency and accountability, and a system of checks and balances.
4. What's so bad with a green cemetery that isn't certified?
An uncertified cemetery operator may decide, despite representations they may have made to the public, that they want to accommodate conventional burial in a place that was to have been permanently protected as a natural area. Uncertified operators can increase the grave density to a level that would degrade the local ecosystem. Or the operator could sell the cemetery to someone who doesn't have an ethic rooted in ecological responsibility, or an entity which has no interest in continuing to run the facility as a green burial ground. There are too many potential ways a green cemetery can devolve, which is why having independent, third party certification is so important.
5. What's wrong with embalming?
Green Burial Pittsburgh and the Green Burial Council don't think any end-of-life ritual or disposition option is "wrong." We only want to ensure that services and products are available to people who wish to minimize their environmental impact. The primary environmental issue with embalming fluid is that contains formaldehyde; a "probable" carcinogen according to the US Environmental Protection Agency and a known carcinogen according to the World Health Organization. Embalming creates health risks for workers and it is associated with several diseases such including nasal cancer and leukemia. In a very few circumstances embalming is actually required by law, but a "funeral with a viewing" is not one of them. Green Burial Council approved funeral directors make available refrigeration and/or dry ice as an alternative to embalming.
6. What are the environmental issues associated with vaults?
Originally developed to deter grave robbers in the late 19th century, vaults are required today by many cemeteries in order to help prevent the ground from sinking and markers from moving. There are no state or federal laws requiring the use of a vault, though cemeteries are allowed to have policies that do. Some conventional cemeteries now offer consumers the option of paying additional amounts of money in an endowment care funds to handle potential maintenance associated with vaultless burial. Many however, offer vaultless burial at no additional charge. While the concrete and metal in vaults are considered "natural" to some, the manufacturing and transporting of vaults utilizes a tremendous amount of energy and contribute to 1.6 tons of reinforced concrete being produced. Vaults are not required in Green Burial Council approved Hybrid Burial Grounds and prohibited in Council certified Conservation and Natural Burial Grounds.
7. Is cremation an eco-friendly form of disposition?
Cremation uses far fewer resources than almost any other disposition option but it also has an environmental impact and "carbon footprint." Cremation burns fossil fuel and some older cremation facilities can use significantly more energy compared to newer ones. Mercury is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, though just how much is widely debated. The GBC has recently begun to certify cremation disposition programs that create or protect habitat. We will also be requiring that mercury pollution be mitigated by our approved cremation facilities by 2010 when cost-effective technologies are expected to be available.
8. What is a home funeral and how does it differ from a home burial?
Home funerals allow for families to care for a decedent, and all aspects of a funeral, at home, and were quite common in the US up until the mid-20th century. A family can facilitate a home funeral on their own; with the assistance of a home funeral practitioner; or in conjunction with a licensed funeral director. Some states require the latter. Home burial is an alternative to burial in a cemetery. It's allowed for in most parts of the country, but usually requires some minimum number of acreage. Home burial has historically been quite common in rural areas.
Note: This list is adapted from http://www.greenburialcouncil.org/faq.php
Last modified on:
February 7, 2011