You’d be hard pressed to find anyone these days who isn’t concerned about the environment in one way or another. With reusing and recycling items now considered normal, and even admirable behaviours, there are plenty of things we can do in life to help the next generations. What you may not have realised, however, is that you can continue to help the planet even after your passing.
Funerals, and especially cremations, can take a considerable toll on the environment, with the CO2 emissions from cremating a body thought to equate to a 500-mile car journey. In an increasingly environmentally conscious society, it should come as no surprise that green and eco-friendly burials are more popular than ever. As well as being more considerate of the planet, many families are also going eco-friendly because these funerals are cheaper and simpler to arrange, giving them more time to grieve.
Despite their rising popularity, green burials are still not seen as a ‘traditional choice’, and many people may not know how to go about organising one. The good news is that eco-friendly funerals do not look or feel hugely different from what many of us are used to. They are merely about making more sustainable and environmentally-conscious choices throughout the funeral planning process, so that – even in death – we can leave a positive impact on the earth and the environment.
Go Down to the Woods
One of the easiest ways to ensure your funeral arrangements are as eco-friendly as possible is to opt for a woodland burial. Also known as natural burial, this process places an emphasis on returning someone’s body back to the earth in the most natural way possible, and one that puts little strain on the environment.
There are many aspects of a traditional funeral which are designed to either slow down the body’s decomposition or use materials that are not easily biodegradable. Natural burials reject both of these processes, opting for refrigerating the body over embalming and turning to sustainable materials for coffins and caskets.
Burial grounds for natural burials tend to be in beautiful green spaces such as meadows, woodland or parkland. There are 270 dedicated locations in the UK for natural or green burials, but wherever you choose to hold your funeral service, you can rest assured that these areas are protected from development and will remain beautiful and wild spaces.
One of the most important considerations for families considering a green burial is whether or not your chosen site allows for grave markers. Some sites may allow a wooden cross or other symbol, while others will plant a tree, and some may not allow any markers whatsoever. If being able to identify the precise location of your loved one’s grave is important to you, it is vital that you find out what the restrictions are at your chosen burial site.
Keep it Local
There are plenty of reasons why a woodland or natural burial may not be right for you and your family. There may not be any sites close enough to your home, or perhaps your loved one had a specific request for their funeral or gravesite that would not be permitted at a woodland burial ground.
If you wish to remain environmentally-conscious without committing to a green burial, then ensuring you keep the funeral as local as possible can go a long way towards reducing your carbon footprint. Even if you are opting for cremation for personal reasons, reducing the distance needed to transport both your loved one and their family and friends is an important part of the process.
Of course, it is unlikely these days that everyone who is invited to a funeral will live within walking or cycling distance from the funeral service location, and it’s unreasonable to expect friends and family members to not attend simply in the name of being eco-friendly. In these circumstances, it’s even more important to focus on the small details.
For example, it is not unusual for families to hold a funeral service in one location and a burial in another. If possible, though, it is a far more eco-friendly option to hold them both in the same place to avoid multiple unnecessary car journeys. These seemingly small decisions can make all the difference when it comes to sustainability, and being mindful of these conscientious choices will help to ensure you give your loved one a green send off.
Ingredients are Key
When hearing the words “eco-friendly funeral”, the go-to image that comes to mind may be a cardboard coffin in a tranquil woodland setting. While this may be slightly misleading, choosing the right coffin or casket is an important decision. In order to be truly sustainable and eco-friendly, a coffin should be made of biodegradable materials, and not slow down the decomposition of the body.
Luckily, cardboard is not your only option when searching for an eco-coffin for your loved one. Other popular options include willow, bamboo or rattan, and can be easily customised in different colours and designs.
However, coffins should not be your only consideration when choosing sustainable materials. Funerals are about more than just the process of burying or cremating a body, and sourcing sustainable decorations, transport and catering are all just as important as your casket choice.
You may not have considered that funeral traditions such as flowers and wreaths can also place a burden on the environment. Cut flowers have a very short life cycle, and are often preserved with various harmful chemicals which can pollute not only the air, but also the ground and water supplies. Some people choose to forgo funeral flowers altogether in favour of asking for donations to an environmental charity of their choice. If flowers are important to you and your loved ones, however, the most eco-responsible choice would be to support florists that provide locally-grown, organic and in-season varieties.
If you do opt for an eco-friendly funeral, you should never feel pressured to conform to every new sustainable trend that there is just for the sake of impressing others. If you really want to use organic, plant-based catering and a plastic-free service from start to finish, this is clearly a good thing for the planet. But planning a funeral is ultimately about saying goodbye to someone you love, and creating a loving and supportive environment – rather than adding extra work to your burden – is key.
It is up to you how far you wish you go when planning an eco-friendly funeral, and much will depend on your reasons for planning one in the first place, as well as the wishes of your loved one. If they themselves were a dedicated eco-warrior throughout their life, then getting every detail right (right down to biodegradable straws for drinks at the reception) would be worth the dedication in order to properly celebrate their life.
However, sometimes making every single aspect of your funeral service sustainable and eco-friendly is not possible, either for logistical or financial reasons. It is far more important to focus on the details you can realise, rather than adding unnecessary stress worrying about what you might have forgotten about. An eco-friendly funeral is all about simplicity and giving something back to the earth, but we also need to give ourselves room to grieve.
We are a family-led funeral directors in Essex since 1958.