For many, thinking about the well being of the planet continues even after they’re gone. “Green” funerals—that is, services and burials that are more Eco-friendly than traditional methods—are gaining popularity. Families now have a wider range of options when planning a loved one’s service that takes into account sustainability and conservation.
Even with this wealth of choice, it may still be hard to know where to start. Many people don’t think about funerals until they need to plan one, and may not be sure which options might be best. To help, here are six ways families can make funerals better for the environment.
1. Opt-out of traditional embalming
Embalming is a process used to preserve the body and helps to restore a life-like appearance. This may be helpful if your loved one or family would like an open casket service. However, this process typically uses formaldehyde and other harsh chemicals that can pollute soil or the water table after a body is buried.
In cases of contagious disease embalming may be required, but otherwise, it’s generally fine to skip the entire process. This may mean having the funeral service as soon as possible after a loved one has passed away, or opting for a closed casket service. Families who would still like an open casket service can choose more natural ways of preserving the body, such as the use of essential oils.
2. Keep mementos out of the cremation process
Some people and cultures prefer cremation to burial. While this process may help keep demand for land in cemeteries low, there are still ways to make it better for the environment.
Families sometimes place special items in the casket with their loved one before they are cremated. This could include anything from photographs and letters to toys and jewelry. Depending on what these items are, they may create toxic and polluting fumes when they are burned.
If a loved one has already requested that they are cremated with a special keepsake, you or your family may not feel comfortable breaking this promise. However, if you intend to be cremated when your time comes, you can ask that items not be placed in the casket.
3. Choose a sustainable casket
Caskets can be made from a variety of materials, some of which are kinder to the environment than others. Choosing a sustainable made casket could help reduce a funeral’s carbon footprint.
Biodegradable caskets made from materials such as cedar, wicker or heavy-duty cardboard are becoming more popular and accessible for grieving families. These break down naturally, without releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding soil or water table. Even if you or a loved one prefers cremation, a casket made from one of these materials could help prevent the release of toxins into the air when they are burned.
Another option is not to be buried or cremated in a casket at all. Natural burial grounds—one alternative to traditional cemeteries—also allow people to be buried wearing fabric shrouds. These could be made of untreated cotton, linen or burlap.
4. Pick Eco-friendly transportation
The day of a funeral may include a lot of travel. Family and friends attending will need to get to the church service, to the cemetery for the burial and possibly to someone’s home afterward. The deceased will also need to be transported on the day, and mourners may come to the funeral from around the country or the world to attend.
Transportation choices could help decrease the pollution caused by all this travel. Electric vehicles or other alternatives—such as a horse-drawn carriage instead of a gas-powered hearse—could be a good option for some mourners. People could also be encouraged to carpool, decreasing the number of cars on the road during the day.
5. Skip the flowers
Floral arrangements are often displayed at funerals, and mourners may send flowers to the deceased’s family as a reminder that they are in their thoughts. However, commercial flower production often impacts the environment negatively.
Pesticides are commonly used on flowers sold by florists and in shops. Growing these flowers also requires huge amounts of water that could be used in other areas. Sometimes it even increases the price of water in countries where they are grown or those nearby.
Instead of sending store-bought flowers to grieving friends or family, consider other ways to celebrate the deceased’s life. You could give them a plant from your garden, or plant a native tree or flower bush in their memory. The family might prefer other acts of kindness, such as cooking a meal or offering to help with daily errands.
6. Ask for charitable donations to an environmental cause
Donating to a charity or non-profit is a popular way to honor a loved one after they’ve passed away. If that person had a particular passion for environmentalism, choosing an organization that focuses on conservation could be fitting.
Mourners can be encouraged to donate to a cause in several ways. The deceased’s family might ask for donations instead of flowers or other gifts. You might also encourage mourners attending the funeral or burial to purchase carbon offsets, especially if they are flying to get there. Families may also decide to arrange a volunteering event to honor their loved one.
Arranging a greener farewell
There are many ways for grieving families to make their loved one’s funeral service more Eco-friendly. However, it may make the most sense to think about your final wishes and communicate these to your family. That way, when the time comes, they’ll know how important it is to you that the service has an as little impact on the planet as possible.
You might also consider arranging funds to pay for your funeral—such as taking out a funeral insurance policy. Some Eco-friendly choices may cost more than more traditional ones, so helping your loved ones with the cost could make it easier for them to honor your final wishes.
How we say goodbye to loved ones can be deeply emotional and personal. Whatever options you ultimately choose, there are ways (both big and small) that can help the environment at the same time.