Guide to Green Funerals

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A high percentage of funerals still take place in a crematorium or other religious building, but there is a trend towards choosing funerals that have less impact on the planet . Out of all the different types of funeral services, a green funeral is one of the most eco-friendly.

Traditionally a funeral will include some hallmarks that many people come to expect such as an expensive coffin, lots of flowers, and several other add-ons. But how necessary are such embellishments and is there a better option that is just as meaningful and memorable?

One familiar type of green funeral features burial in a natural setting but many people are unaware that some cremations can also be considered ‘green’.

What is a green funeral?

A green funeral is a term that typically implies woodland burial, eco funeral, and natural burial.

Eco-friendly or green funerals are becoming a popular alternative to traditional burials and funeral services. They use less harmful or wasteful materials for the preparation of the body and during the burial process.

The ceremony takes place in a natural setting, often outdoors in a meadow or woodland area that offers tranquillity for family and friends. This kind of green funeral will be held in a location that has a focus on preserving the natural beauty of the environment and encourages native flowers and wildlife.

The idea behind a more natural style of funeral is to minimise the environmental impact of the funeral. For example, biodegradable coffins are commonly used as they are made out of willow, wicker, or recycled paper. There might also be an electric hearse or horse-drawn carriage.

Types of green funerals

The term green funeral encompasses several options, but if you want a send-off where the burial area creates habitat for wildlife or preserves the environment, there are several types to choose from.

Natural burial

A natural burial attempts to return a body to the earth in as natural a way as possible. This generally means no embalming processes, cremation, and caskets or coffins that won’t biodegrade with time. The ceremony often takes place in green spaces, such as wildflower meadows, parkland, or protected woodland.

Some natural burial sites permit the marking of the graves, while others don’t allow any identifying features. In effect, this means the whole area is the memorial.

Direct cremation

You may be surprised to learn that Direct cremation could also be considered ‘green’ because it is more eco-friendly than a traditional funeral. A direct cremation that takes place at a very efficient crematorium without any mourners present results in a lower carbon footprint than a conventional funeral. There’s no embalming, big funeral vehicles, headstone or mourners travel and there are fewer staff movements.

Here at Pure Cremation, we do several things to reduce the impact of our direct cremation service on the environment. For example:

  • We use electronic documentation to reduce the amount of paper used
  • Electronic documents are completed from the comfort of home, reducing travel
  • Our logistics are very efficient yet respectful
  • The deceased are cared for within or very close to the crematorium site
  • We use solid pine eco-coffins which are transported efficiently
  • The majority of cremations are carried out in one location, reducing the consumption of gas considerably
  • Filtration technology capture any harmful emissions and scrubs the air before it’s released to the atmosphere
  • The heat from within the crematory and wider buildings is recovered to reduce overall fossil fuel consumption
  • We offer unique, biodegradable urns that include a photo wrapper printed using vegetable inks
  • An online book of remembrance is available to reduce paper consumption and the need to remembrance visits (see Pure Memories)
  • We work with Carbon Footprint to assess and offset our unavoidable emissions

Rest assured that Pure Cremation delivers a funeral service that is dignified and provides professional care while giving you the freedom to choose how, when, and where you make your final journey. All whilst doing our utmost to respect the planet.

Sky burial

This is a type of funeral most often practised in Tibet and other areas nearby. Buddhist monks use this death ritual because it is thought to encourage good karma.

Bodies are taken to charnel grounds where vultures come to eat the flesh, offering back to the world what was taken in life. Monks believe that it encourages the dead to move to the next life without being held back by their physical bodies.

It also happens to be a very practical solution to the scarcity of wood and usable burial grounds.

Burial at sea

A sea burial follows the tradition of Vikings, pirates, naval officers, and anyone who loved the ocean in life. It’s an opportunity to return to the sea in death.

There are many ways a sea burial can take place. For example, a body can be set to sea in a designated area in a casket that sinks to the ocean floor. Eco-friendly options such as water-soluble urns for a person’s ashes are another alternative.

It’s also possible for cremated remains to be mixed with environmentally friendly concrete to create artificial reefs that support marine life.

The cost of a green funeral

The average cost of a funeral that is relatively simple is around £4,184 (source: SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2021). How does that compare with the cost of a green funeral? The cost of a green burial can be anything from a few hundred pounds up to several thousand. Of course, it depends on the area you choose for your plot and what other arrangements you decide to make.

How to organise a green funeral

Organising a green funeral will be a fitting tribute to someone who felt at home outdoors, in wide-open natural spaces. It’s also ideal for anyone who wants to protect the environment.

You need to consider some factors when organising the perfect service for your environmentally conscious loved one.

Green funeral directors

It is possible to organise a green funeral yourself, but a funeral director can make the process easier. The first thing you have to do is choose the best one

An excellent place to start your search is by contacting the Association of Green Funeral Directors. Established in 2009, one of its main objectives is to help members of the public find funeral homes in their area which are willing to provide more sustainable and eco-friendly options in the funerals they carry out.

Green funeral providers

There are several green funeral providers to choose from. One thing to look for is that they are working with the Carbon Trust to quantify the carbon footprint associated with its business and are implementing the Carbon Trust’s recommendations to make reductions where possible.

Many characteristics make a funeral provider green. For example, they should allow:

  • The use of sustainable, biodegradable clothing, shroud, or burial container
  • Use recycled paper products, locally-grown organic flowers, or food
  • Provide electric-powered transportation to the ceremony
  • Arrange a small memorial gathering in a natural setting
  • Provide a natural or green burial

Research natural burial grounds

There are natural burial grounds all around the UK, with new sites opening every year. There are some excellent online sources of information. You should have no problems finding a natural burial ground in your area if you visit the following websites:

More tips on holding an eco-friendly funeral

There are lots of things to consider if you want to hold an eco-friendly funeral. Here are some valuable tips to help you.

  • Consider the type of coffin or urn you want to use; eco-friendly coffins can be made from banana leaf, bamboo, cardboard, wool, seagrass, pandanus, coco stick, cane, or water hyacinth
  • If you want to store your loved one’s body in an eco-friendly way, discuss refrigeration with your funeral director
  • Burial shrouds are an ideal option for an eco-friendly funeral
  • A simple way to be greener is to consider your transportation options; for example, consider car-sharing, cycling, walking with the family, or a horse-drawn carriage if you can find a local carriage-master
  • Avoid printing Order of Service sheets or hymns use digital ones instead
  • Avoid the use of plastic cutlery, plates, and glasses
  • Use a local catering supplier and make sure the food is grown or sourced locally
  • Ask for donations to charity instead of funeral flowers
  • Plant a tree instead of having a memorial
  • Limit the impact of funeral or memorial events

Plan a ‘green’ memorial service

As more and more of us are asking what we can do to protect the environment, one meaningful way we can make a difference is in our approach to death. Planning an eco-friendly funeral and memorial service can be a powerful parting gift to the planet.

Saying goodbye to a loved one doesn’t have to be done traditionally anymore. It’s now possible to arrange a green funeral and green memorial service in the UK and take comfort in the knowledge that every aspect has been carefully considered to minimise the impact on the environment and be more aware of the footprint we leave on Mother Nature.

A green memorial service can be just as meaningful and a time for quiet reflection in nature. See some inspirational memorial services planned by families who chose Pure Cremation.