How is green burial different from conventional burial?
Conventional burial, with embalming, a metal or hardwood casket, and burial vault is the most common means of body disposal in the U.S.; for many, it offers comfort and predictability.
But it can be very expensive, often at a time when families can least afford the expense.
It also inhibits decomposition of the body and creates “landfills” of non-biodegradable and sometimes hazardous materials.
We consider green burial “traditional” burial, as it reflects our burial practices up until the mid -nineteenth century.
What about cremation?
Cremation requires sufficient fossil fuel to sustain a temperature of 1400-1600 degrees F. for up to 4 hours. The heat produced by this process could be captured and used productively, but it rarely is. Cremation also produces a variety of air pollutants – particulate matter, mercury, carbon monoxide, and dioxin among others.
How does green burial work?
With green burial, a body is not embalmed. (Refrigeration, dry ice or techni-ice will cool the body if immediate burial is not possible or desired.) The body is enclosed in a biodegradable container (such as a cardboard coffin, pine box or natural fiber shroud, and placed directly into the earth rather than into an outer concrete grave liner or vault. A flat memorial stone or planting may serve as a grave marker. Or there may be no marker at all (computer mapping lets your loved ones know exactly where you are). Burial at a depth of 3.5-4 feet will permit access by aerobic bacteria to enhance decomposition.
Is it possible to be buried on my own land?
Yes. If you have sufficient land, it is possible to have a green burial on your own property. You’ll need to get approval ahead of time from your local board of health. You may need to have the property surveyed and write the burial location into the deed of the house at the very least.
Want more information?
Click on the brochure, Green Burial in Massachusetts, written by GBM Board Member Carol Coan.