Natural Burial and The Law: Are there Legal Matters Regarding Natural Burial?

Every day more and more people ask us great questions regarding sustainability in death care and natural burial. Specifically, many people want to know if there are laws that prohibit some of the choices in death care for a more natural return to the earth. The growing interest in green burials and natural burials is encouraging.

10 Ways to Plan a Green Funeral

While concrete burial vaults are required by most cemeteries, they are not required by law in most states.

While concrete burial vaults are required by most cemeteries, they are not required by law in most states.

A lot of folks will say they don’t care what happens to their bodies after they die, but they do care about the health and enjoyment of those who will survive them.  How about a Green Funeral?  Here are 10 ways to plan a greener funeral.

1. Give your business to a Green funeral home.
Just like in our own homes, a funeral home has unlimited opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to the environment.  Give your patronage to a funeral home that doesn’t just offer a green burial service, but demonstrates a commitment to sustainability with low water toilets, low/zero VOC paints and finishes, energy-efficient lighting & appliances, carpet made from sustainable or recycled materials, rain water collection, window flower boxes, composting, rain gardens, etc.  Cress Funeral Homes in Madison, WI is one such funeral home that has taken every opportunity in funeral home improvement to make smart choices for the environment.

2. Don’t use a concrete burial vault.
The law does not require burial vaults in Wisconsin (or most states).  There are many cemeteries that do not require them.  If your plot is in a cemetery that requires a vault, there are recycled plastic products on the market, but with limited availability.  Your funeral director can help find answers to these questions.

3. Don’t use a steel casket.
Save steel for cars and buildings where it will serve a long and useful life and be recycled again and again.  Wood is a renewable natural resource.  Consider lower-impact, more sustainable woods like pine and poplar over more expensive hardwoods like maple and mahogany.

4. Consider alternatives to cremation carefully.
Cremation has a carbon footprint of 350 to 600 lbs. of CO2 and is responsible for a significant amount of toxic air-born pollution including mercury pollution.  Consider a natural return to your earthly elements with a burial in a locally-sourced wooden casket with a biodegradable interior and non-toxic wood finish.  If cremation is your preference for any number of reasons, go with a wooden cremation casket that will reduce the fossil fuel used by 10-20%.

5. Forgo embalming or use non-formeldehyde alternatives.
Embalming is not required by law.  The law requires some form of preservation which includes refrigeration or embalming.  Dry ice can be used to satisfy refrigeration requirements during a family viewing or service.  There are also alternatives to formeldehyde embalming fluids.  Ask your funeral director about green alternatives to conventional embalming fluid.

6. Find a natural burial ground or conservation cemetery.
Wisconsin has a number of traditional cemeteries opening up natural burial areas and there are a few new cemeteries pursuing conservation status.  The Natural Path Sanctuary in Verona, WI is one example of a conservation cemetery.  This woodland burial ground must preserve the natural habitat for both flora and fauna and prohibits vaults and non-biodegradables including your choice of casket or burial shroud and burial clothing—no embalming, no metal, no polyester.

7. Reduce travel requirements.
Have your visitation and funeral service in the same place at the same time.  No sense making your family drive all over the place.  Also, carefully consider what your wishes are for family and friends who must travel from far away.  Air travel is a big carbon polluter and, if avoided, can save a lot of energy.  It’s your funeral and if you’d rather your distant family raise a toast to you over the phone, let them know this is how you feel.

8.  Avoid cut flowers.
The cut flower industry is rife with conspiracy about wasteful practices that consume water, use pesticides and herbicides, and refrigerated air freight to transport fresh cut flowers around the planet.  Consider specifying locally-sourced cut flowers, locally grown potted flowers, or other creative alternatives.

9.  Plant a few trees.
Nobody can argue that planting trees is a good thing.  Plant trees every year and teach your children the importance of planting trees.  Support the Arbor Day Foundation and ask family and friends plant trees in your memory. Or pre-plan your funeral today and we will plant 100 trees this year, and every year, for you as part of our Plant it Forward program!

10.  Plan your Funeral.
If the environment is important to you, don’t leave these choices to someone else.  There’s no better way to ensure that your funeral has minimal impact on the environment.  Do you homework, meet with a funeral director, and write your funeral plan.  It doesn’t matter if you are 64 or 24.  It’s never too soon to have peace of mind that your funeral will be consistent with your values.