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What makes a funeral ‘green’?

Green funerals have been growing in popularity for years, and today there are more options than ever for an eco-friendly burial. But with so many options available, how can you be sure that your funeral is as green as it can be?

Green funerals, otherwise called woodland burials, often take place in natural burial sites or in designated areas of larger cemeteries. They are an environmentally-friendly alternative to more traditional burials and cremations, due to lower carbon emissions. They will make use of biodegradable coffins, or no coffin at all, helping to protect natural habitats and wildlife.

Why is this better for the environment? Put simply, a typical cremation in the UK will produce around 126kg of carbon emissions. This is roughly the same as driving a car from Edinburgh to Brighton. A typical cremation urn isn’t biodegradable either, and cutting down trees to produce a traditional oak or ash coffin isn’t the greenest option either! When a body is embalmed - not a legal requirement in the UK - it is necessary to use toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, which can cause soil damage and pollution.

The first natural burial ground in the UK was opened in 1993 and there are now over 300 operating across the country. Since there is no legal requirement in the UK to use a coffin or to be embalmed, a natural or woodland burial is an attractive option for many people. Being laid to rest in a linen shroud just a few feet below the ground, your body will naturally decompose and produce just 10% of the carbon emissions of a cremation.

More recently the options for green funerals have expanded. Water cremation will become available through Co-op Funeralcare later this year, becoming the first new method of body disposal since 1902. Resomation, which supplies the equipment for water cremations, claims that the process produces a third less greenhouse gas than cremation, and uses a seventh of the total energy.

For many people, having a woodland burial is as much about the idea of ‘returning to the earth’ as it is about environmental concerns. In some ways, this is nothing new. ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes’ has been part of Britain’s traditional funeral ceremonies for centuries.

Professor Douglas Davies, an anthropologist and theologian who works at the University of Durham, sees the rise in natural burial as a natural progression from cremation.

“Cremation was a major change. That began in the 1890s. Then in the 1990s, this idea of green burial emerged. Now we have almost as many natural burial sites as we do crematoria. There is this idea of nature. People like the idea of the countryside, of national parks, the sea. It’s a resource of our imagination.

“When we say we don’t want to embalm, or we don’t want coffins that are not going to rot, we are saying that we want decay. This is a very important point. The idea of decay has shifted from being a negative thing to being a positive thing.”

For those who want to go even further back to their roots, there are options for you as well! Capsula Mundi are an Italian project who hope to produce an ‘egg-shaped pod… made of biodegradable material, where our departed loved ones are placed for burial’. This ‘pod’ will contain the seed of a tree, meaning that your body will form the roots of a new living organism. the company also produces biodegradable urns, which also contain the seeds of a tree.

Capsula Mundi Capsula Mundi founders Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel

It’s clear that whatever your wishes, a green burial is more available today than it ever has been. Whether your concerns are environmental, naturalistic or both, options are available. If you want to find out more about natural burial, the Natural Death Centre has a host of resources available. To find a natural or woodland burial ground near you, Funeral Guide has compiled a directory to help you get started.

Read more about alternative burials from British history and different types of biodegrabale urns that are in use today.

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