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Green Funerals

How green could your funeral be?

It’s odd to think about our effect on the planet after we die but, if you’re eco-conscious now, then it might be something you’d like to think about – how green could your funeral be?

A woodland burial may seem like the natural first choice, but there are other considerations too. If you and your family would like to think about a ‘very green funeral’, then these overviews of funeral elements may help you to make some decisions.

What is a green funeral?

Your personal views will guide you. In general, ‘green funerals’ tend to err away from cremation, and instead, involve burial in a natural setting. There’s no embalming of the body certainly, and a coffin or shroud is made locally, from natural and sustainable materials. But while your final resting place may be the focus point, there’s more to a green funeral than how your body is treated.

Woodland burials – are they the natural choice?

Yes, which is why many families decide a woodland burial would be the best option for a ‘green’ funeral. There are over 260 woodland or green burial sites around the UK, but there are also long barrows too – rural, modern-day versions of ancient monuments – in which you could store your ashes, if you still prefer cremation. That brings us very quickly to the difficult question:

Which is ‘greener’, a burial or cremation?

It’s not easy to work out the carbon footprint of a cremation because there are so many variables involved – but a burial is greener overall, there’s no doubt about it. Crematoria and technology have come a long way in recent years, but the physical process of cremation makes it a pollutant in more ways than one. There’s just no getting around the cost of electricity in life, or death.

Cremators operate at over 750C, for over an hour for each cremation. The Natural Death Centre tells us that one cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip. In fact, on average, a cremator uses about 285 kW hours of gas and 15kWh of electricity, which is about the same amount that a single person would consume in one month.

Then – depending, unfortunately, on the size of your body – there’s the overall release of CO2 to think about. The average adult human body is about 50-65% water (we’re using approximations throughout here), which means about 90 pounds of water will be evaporated from a 150-pound person. Add in the previous energy consumption, and allowing for all those variables, each cremation will put somewhere between 300 and 500 pounds of CO2 into the air.

So, if you’re thinking about carbon off-setting – a typical hardwood tree will absorb about 48 pounds of CO2 each year – then the suggestion would be to plant at least 10 trees.

Green options for your coffin (or shroud)

Assuming that you’ve decided not to be cremated, but to be buried in a woodland burial ground instead, you’ll be asked to use an eco-friendly coffin. Wooden coffins may be made from oak or pine, but some coffins use wood veneers, which will be bonded to the coffin with a formaldehyde resin.

However, there’s nothing to stop you choosing something like bamboo or willow; wicker, recycled paper or cardboard; or a shroud that’s made of wool, felt, or cotton for any form of burial. There are many firms in the UK that offer natural coffins, made from locally sourced materials, so there’s also no need to worry about a carbon footprint for sourcing an eco-coffin.

Reducing your family’s funeral footprint

A funeral cortege usually involves one or two limousines, which are followed by families and friends in their own transport. To reduce the emissions involves, you might ask friends and family to car share – and insist on a hearse that is green, too.

Then, instead of asking for funeral flowers – which might use plastic or metal frames, or even depend on using blooms that have been imported from overseas’ growers – you could suggest that floral tributes use flowers picked from a local garden. Or, growing in popularity, that tributes are made by donating to a favourite charity instead.

Finally, your family might like to make orders of service rather than have them printed – or to use an order of service that’s printed on recycled paper. These are all small gestures, but in a green funeral these may be important to you. If you’re interested in taking out a funeral plan that can help you to define some of those options, our team would be happy to help.