So what does it mean to have a ‘green’ funeral?
In death, as in life, there are a few things to consider for the environmentally conscious person who wishes to ‘tread lightly on the earth’, minimising any negative environmental impacts.
Perhaps the main elements to consider are these:
- Choosing a ‘natural’ burial, in a site serving a conservation purpose rather than burial in a cemetery, or cremation
- Not embalming – this invasive procedure uses highly toxic chemicals, and is very rarely necessary, when modern refrigeration is available
- Opting for a coffin or shroud made from natural, sustainable materials, preferably made locally, or ethically produced if imported
- Considering transport options and perhaps bearing in mind using alternative funeral transport, such as an electric hearse
- Requesting locally grown rather than imported flowers
Natural burial sites provide an ideal habitat for all kinds of native wildlife, and one of the key benefits of having people buried on the land is that it is an effective way of ensuring it is protected from other kinds of development in the future.
The essence of a green funeral may be considered as a return to age-old elemental simplicity. Natural burial is not so different from burial at an ordinary cemetery or churchyard, but does require the following:
- A grave depth of no more than 3 feet
- Requirement for a biodegradable coffin or urn, made from materials such as woven willow, felt, natural wood, recycled cardboard or even a simple woollen shroud
- No vertical or permanent memorial
These measures allow the body to return to the earth more quickly and maintain the natural integrity and beauty of the site. It is only since the late 19th century that we have become used to cremations or burials using coffins with ornate fittings which are not biodegradable. Prior to that, what is now considered slightly unusual was the established and normal way.
There are almost 300 natural burial sites in the UK, and we are fortunate to have several in the local area, at Shamley Green, Clandon, Grayshott, Edenbridge, East Meon and Hassocks. They each have different things to offer. The best advice for anyone interested is to go along and see for yourself exactly how each site looks and feels, meet the people who run it and to ask all of the questions you might have. It is hugely important that the final resting place for someone you love – or indeed for yourself – is right for you and for your family.
Find out more
- The Natural Death Centre spearheads the UK’s back-to-nature burial movement. For more information and a comprehensive list of all natural burial sites please visit their website http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk
Locating the plot
One important thing to bear in mind when considering natural burial is that it can be difficult to locate the grave as years go by. The idea is that the entire site, rather than the grave itself, commemorates the life lived. This can mean that graves will not be discernable after a few years, so there is a need to accept that graves may be walked over as they blend back in to the meadow or woodland.
All burial grounds are required to keep a register and map of the burials on the land, so you can be re-assured that exact locations will be known, if important to you.
Some burial grounds will allow marking of the grave with a wooden or stone marker, probably laid flat. Some will allow nothing at all on the grave itself, but offer instead the chance to have a bird or bat box placed nearby.
This is something to consider very carefully, as many people struggle with the idea of losing sight of exactly where a person is buried.
Coffins and shrouds…
There are lots of beautiful, naturally produced and ethically sourced coffins on offer. Many people choose these purely for aesthetic reasons, but environmentally they are a big improvement on what is offered as ‘standard’ (veneered MDF with plastic handles) by most funeral directors.
Sidestepping the wider and ongoing debate about the relative merits of fairtrade V locally produced, suffice to say that there is plenty of choice. Fairly traded coffins are available from overseas in materials such as sustainable bamboo, or woven water-hyacinth. Closer to home, Musgrove Willow in Somerset, https://www.musgrovewillowcoffins.co.uk creates beautifully hand woven caskets using naturally coppiced willow grown onsite.
It is even possible for families to actively participate in weaving their chosen willow coffin by prior arrangement.
The Leafcocoon from Bellacouche is a fully biodegradable ‘soft’ eco coffin with integral shroud and wood frame, designed for an environmentally friendly natural burial. Individually hand-made in Devon from entirely natural materials, using pure wool felt and wood from local sources.
Finally, the simplest and most cost-effective option is probably the cardboard coffin. These can be personalized using photos, or can be decorated by those near and dear.
It may not be widely known, but a coffin is not essential if you wish to be buried. For a swifter ‘return to nature’, there are bamboo shrouds available which give a very different look and feel to the funeral ceremony.
Talk it through beforehand
Making any decision after a bereavement is far harder than if thoughts and plans are made beforehand when shock, grief and the pressure of time are not such an issue. So, wherever possible, talking to your family and together exploring the options available to you is advisable before a death occurs.
By telling those close to you your wishes, family and friends will find it so much easier to ensure you have the sort of funeral and final resting place you would want.
For any further information, or just for a general chat about anything to do with funeral choices, please get in touch with us at Dandelion Farewells, where Judith, Angela, Jo or Clare will be happy to hear from you.