By Gary Thomas
Environmental Benefits of
Issues With Natural Burials
Sites Involved in Natural
Sources and Further Reading
Natural burials, sometimes referred to as green burials, are a more
natural and eco-friendly way of being laid to rest. Various changes are
made to the normal burial routine to ensure that the burial is as close
to nature as possible, and the body is in time returned to the Earth.
The idea of a natural burial is not a new one: for centuries people
buried their dead in this way, though the practise became less popular
after the American Civil War. Now, there is a revival in natural burial
grounds, with many available sites springing up over the last twenty
In this article, the environmental benefits of a green burial are
outlined, as well as the issues that some people have with the process.
Many people are now choosing a natural burial in a serene piece
of countryside or forest, where the grave is more likely to be marked
with a tree than a headstone. Image Source: Department
For Natural Resources, Kentucky.
Benefits of Natural Burials
The main way in which green burials are eco-friendly is via the use
of sustainable materials. Biodegradable coffins are often used instead
of conventional hardwood coffins or concrete vaults. These will break
down, along with the body, and become part of the soil. Biodegradable
coffins can be made from a variety of materials, from cardboard to
papier maché. More expensive biodegradable coffins, made from
sustainable willow, wicker and bamboo, are also available.
Alternatively, a burial shroud may be used instead.
Embalming, the process of chemical preserving a body for a short
period of time, is often not undertaken during a natural burial as the
chemicals can be harmful to the local ecosystem. Embalming will also
prevent the body from breaking down, as the chemicals used can inhibit
the microbial decomposers that are needed to recycle the body
naturally. Alternatively, more eco-friendly embalming chemicals can be
used, which do not contain formaldehyde.
Traditional burial sites also become full up relatively quickly, and
the land cannot be used for anything else. However, a green burial site
is often indistinguishable from a normal field or woods and so in the
future these can be passed across to wildlife trusts when they are
full, to become parkland or gardens.
Furthermore, natural burials offer an economical advantage over
traditional burials, whilst still providing a respectful and poignant
service. For example, a biodegradable coffin made from cardboard is
often around the £60 mark. Advocates of natural burials say they are
content with the idea, because it means the person will always be a
part of the Earth and in this sense are never really gone.
Issues With Natural
People are often wary about natural burials and several myths have
sprung up which can often put people off. However, most of these issues
are unfounded. Listed below are some common issues raised:
- Legality: The service is perfectly legal, providing that standard
laws and regulations are adhered to. For example, There is a legal
requirement to mark an individual grave in some respect, but this can
be done with a granite slab, a tree or even an electronic chip instead
of a traditional headstone. A natural burial can be performed on
private land or in any cemetery that is willing to accommodate the
- Disease: There have been concerns that not embalming the body at
the time of burial can lead to infection of local water supplies. This
is not the case according to Gordon Maupin, the Executive Director of
the Wilderness Center, a US-based, non-profit nature center that
specialises in natural burials. Talking to energy
digital, Maupin says that it is simple biology that disproves
the idea that disease can be transferred from the buried bodies, as
soil microbes will break down anything dangerous into its elemental
form, rendering it harmless.
- Animal Disturbance: All bodies in a natural burial are buried to
a sufficient depth so that no animal could dig down to reach them,
hence leaving the body undisturbed.
- Religion: Though the ground in which the person is buried is
often not consecrated, individual sites can be blessed. Priests in the
UK are warming to the idea of greener cemeteries, as limited church
budgets mean that traditional graveyards can fall into disrepair.
The only real issue with a green burial is personal feeling towards
Sites Involved in
Natural burial is now a rapidly growing alternative to conventional
burial and there are currently over 200 natural burial sites in the UK
alone. The first modern natural burial site in the UK was ‘The Woodland
Burial’ at Carlisle cemetery. This site opened in 1993, and each grave
is marked by an Oak tree instead of a headstone. The first privately
owned natural burial ground in the UK, the Greenhaven Woodland Burial
Ground near Rugby, was opened a year later in 1994.
In the United States, the Green Burial Council is
the main organisation that deals with natural burials. Through their
website, a provider of green burials can be found in any state or
Sources and Further
is a green Burial? The Guardian, July 2004
Green Burial Council
Burial grounds-Legal Procedures
For the Dead, Respect for the Environment Energy digital,