Green/Natural burial is burial of a dead human body in the soil in a manner that allows the body to decompose naturally.
Green/Natural burial is burial as it was practiced by most human cultures for millenia, until the widespread use of commercial funeral products in the late 19th century.
Benefits of Green/Natural Burial:
Saves money. Natural burial is often less expensive than purchasing a typical grave in a conventional cemetery. It's also less expensive than a conventional funeral because there is no need for embalming, or an elaborate casket or a burial vault. The amount you spend does not equal the amount you love.
No embalming using toxic chemicals. Embalming uses toxic chemicals to preserve the body that can leach into the ground. Arsenic can still be found in water near cemeteries where Civil War soldiers were embalmed. Embalming fluids are not regulated and body fluids are disposed down the sewer. Embalmers have an eight times higher risk of contracting blood disease such as leukemia, and three times higher risk of ALS, while groundskeepers are more that twice as likely to develop COPD; both are exposed routinely to chemicals known to cause cancer and neurological diseases. Dry ice and refrigeration are adequate to preserve a body up to four days if viewing is desired. The law does not require embalming. Formaldehyde-free options are now available. Check with your local funeral home to see if this is an option.
Elaborate, expensive caskets are not needed. Many caskets are now made from imported steel from China and exotic woods from rainforests in South America, creating significant carbon emissions.
Conserves natural resources Each year, the U.S. buries over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete -- 1-2 tons per vault. The production of concrete requires significant energy, resulting in the generation of carbon dioxide. Vaults are used to maintain a level soil surface for ease in lawn mowing by preventing soil settlement, resulting in the manicured appearance observed in conventional lawn cemeteries. Vaults also create a barrier between the casket and the earth, prohibiting the natural decomposition process.
Simplicity. Family members may wash, clothe, casket, and transport the body from the place of death to the cemetery, assist with lowering the body into the grave, assist in covering the grave with earth. Learn more about ceremonies/celebrations.
For millenia, human communities primarily in the West, buried their dead directly in the ground. A dead body, wrapped in a shroud or sheet, was lowered into a grave and covered over with soil. Over time, in some cultures, the body was first placed in a container made of wood.
GREEN/NATURAL BURIAL IN MINNESOTA
Mound Cemetery (Brooklyn Center) is Minnesota's only cemetery certified by the Green Burial Council (GBC) as a hybrid cemetery, meaning it permits both green as well as conventional burials
Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco Gardens (Inver Grove Heights) is Minnesota's only all-natural burial ground.
Roselawn Cemetery (Roseville)
Information on Roselawn's natural burial policy is on their website's FAQs page under the question, "With a traditional casket burial, do I have to use a burial vault? Is it required by law?"
For information on costs, see our 2015 Green/Natural Burial Price Survey.
What is the difference between a conventional burial and a natural burial?
The three top defining characteristics of any natural burial are absence of a vault, non-toxic preparation of the body, and containers, if used, are made of organic materials.
Why would someone choose a natural burial over convention burial, cremation or other method?
More people are looking for more eco-friendly, affordable, and personally meaningful ways to do just about everything. Natural burial mirrors for many the way in which they strived to live their lives — environmentally responsible and in harmony with nature. For some, natural burial represents the closing of the circle between birth and death by being buried without any encumbrances or impediments, signaling a return to the simpler burial practices that have been interrupted for less than a hundred years. One of the major reasons people are drawn to natural burial is its roots in tradition: up until a hundred years ago, everyone was buried this way.
Can I bury a body anywhere?
Check with your local county as each has their own rules on burial of bodies.
Doesn’t a body have to be embalmed to have an open casket viewing?
No, Minnesota law does not require embalming. A body can be kept at home for up to four days using dry ice or Techni-ice or air conditioning. Embalming is only a cosmetic procedure and is not in any way a public health safeguard.
What does Minnesota state law require?
In 2010, the MN Legislature revised Statutes to allow families greater control of a loved ones body after death. A body can now be kept at home for up to four days using dry ice. Family members can obtain both a burial permit and a permit to transport the body.
Do I have to use a casket?
The short answer is “No” but the body is usually covered in some way. Covered can be a plain pine coffin, a cardboard container that can be painted and decorated by family and friends, or the body can simply be wrapped in a shroud, blanket, quilt or other fabric.
Can I help lower the body into the grave and cover the body with dirt?
Yes. For carrying the weight of the casket or shrouding board during a service, rails, or slats are placed across the grave. Ropes or straps are laid across in preparation for lowering. Once the weight is transferred from the rails to the ropes or straps, the rails are removed, and the casket or shroud is lowered into the grave.
Is a natural burial grave as deep as a conventional grave?
Graves are typically shallower — 4 feet, rather than the 5-6 feet for conventional graves. This allows greater oxygen flow, which in turn feeds bacteria, resulting in more rapid, efficient decomposition. In addition, at a depth of 3-4 feet, beneficial carrion beetles burrow in to aid the process. Shallow depths also allow land areas such as forests and wooded areas to be utilized.
Are there religious objections to natural burial?
No, in fact, for all Muslims and some Jews, natural burial is required. Muslim and Judaism each prescribe a ritual purification (washing) shrouding of the body after death, and accompanying prayers, Each religion prescribes a unique burial shroud.
Is natural burial better than cremation for reducing environmental impacts?
Yes. See A Greener Way to Go graphic at left.
What happens to the body after it dies?
Read The Science behind Green and Conventional Burial in Lay Terms from the Green Burial Council.
IMAGES OF GREEN/NATURAL BURIAL
Burial of Dr. Clark Wang
The photos below show the step by step 2011 green burial of Dr. Clark Wang, who's desire for a natural burial after being diagnosed with terminal cancer inspired the owners of Pine Forest Memorial Gardens in North Carolina to work with him in establishing the Garden of Renewal, a certified green cemetery.
A feature length documentary film, A Will for the Woods, follows Clark Wang's battle with lymphoma and his dream of leaving a permanent legacy -- a green burial ground. Watch the trailer here.
Trappist Monks: Green Pioneers
In an unbroken tradition going back to one of humankind's earliest funeral practices, Trappist monks have been doing green burial before it had a name. Buried without a casket and dressed in his monastic cowl, a monk is carried in a bier to the cemetery, lifted out of the bier and lowered into his grave, which his brother monks then fill in. According to the Cistercian (Trappist) Ritual for the death of a monk, at the moment of burial, "one of the monks goes down into the grave to receive and arrange the body becomingly."