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Green Burials Reduce Your Impact After Death

First Posted: 12/13/11 11:39 AM ET Updated: 12/13/11 11:44 AM ET

From Mother Nature Network's Laura Moss:

Burial and cremation are the most common ways we dispose of the dead, but while these methods are steeped in tradition, they're far from environmentally friendly. Embalming bodies requires cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde and phenol -- in fact, every year in the U.S. we bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid. Plus, caskets are often made from mined metals, toxic plastic or endangered wood. U.S. cemeteries use 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 180,544,000 pounds of steel and 5,400,000 pounds of copper and bronze annually. Casket burials also prevent a corpse from decomposing efficiently, and this slow rotting process favors sulfur-loving bacteria, which can harm nearby water sources.

Cremation may seem like a greener alternative, but the process requires a lot of energy and creates air pollution. While new burners and filters have made cremation more efficient and less-polluting, crematoriums still release chemicals like dioxin, carbon dioxide and mercury into the atmosphere, and the energy used to cremate one body is equivalent to driving 4,800 miles.

Not only is greening your burial good for the planet, but it's also easy on the wallet. The average funeral costs $6,000, but you can cut back on a lot of funeral expenses and save serious green if you opt for some of these eco-friendly choices. So if you want to be as green in death as you are in life, check out these eco-friendly burial options.

Images and captions courtesy of Mother Nature Network.

Natural Burials
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Interring a body in earth in a manner that allows it to decompose naturally is perhaps the greenest option available, and so-called green burials are gaining popularity. According to the Green Burial Council, there are more than 300 approved eco-friendly burial providers in the U.S. today -- there were only a dozen in 2008. And a 2020 survey commissioned by the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association found that a quarter of those polled liked the idea of a natural burial.

People who choose green burials don't use vaults, traditional coffins or any chemicals. Instead, they are wrapped in biodegradable shrouds or placed in pine coffins and laid to rest where they can decompose and become part of the earth. Often, bodies are buried in graves that are just 3 feet deep to aid decomposition. Natural burial grounds that prohibit chemicals and non-biodegradable materials are located throughout the U.S., but there are also hybrid cemeteries that offer both traditional gravesites and green ones.

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Filed by James Gerken  |