Traditionally, many cultures and communities have had different ways of burying their dead. In ancient times, for example, the Egyptians opted to embalm their dead kings and placed them in well-defined sarcophagi and had them buried in extensive vaults. According to Davies and Rumble (2012), the less privileged families would wrap their departed kin in a cloth or skin and then laid them in the ground. In the years preceding the World War two, anything that reminded people about death were never discussed openly. With time, death lost its place at the core of family life and moved into specially contained areas that were established by the medical fraternity, the church, and the funeral industry. The industry associated with funerals bore a reflection of the domestic nature of the earlier funerals by designating their premises as funeral parlors or funeral homes. At this point, death was increasingly being viewed as a taboo.
Recently, funeral directors have been employed to take charge of the embalming process after which the dead are placed in a coffin. The family then takes charge of the burial process. They bury their loved ones in a grave that is marked and has concrete linings. In the late twentieth century, the revelation of what takes place in the funeral homes has drawn some criticism to the regulations that had been adopted in the United States (Clayden, Green, Hockey & Powell, n.d.). Nowadays, green burials are slowly becoming the better option, whether people care about the environment; want to use the funerals of their loved ones as a way of honoring their lives; looking for simpler ways of disposing of their family members remains or even ways in which they can lower the funeral expenses.
The most interesting part about the green or natural burials is that it embodies the saying that that which was old has become new again. Before the embalming technique even came into fashion, which was before the late 1800s, all funerals were green. In the case of death, the family carried the dead body and placed it in a simple coffin which was the lowered into the ground. The erection of a grave marker was optional. Nowadays, the idea of a green funeral seems very strange to many people. The thought of facing off the products and services that have been put into place a century and a half after moving away from the green or natural burial is disrespectful. If for example, a person by any chance happens to visit any funeral home in the United States today, he or she may stumble upon a list of traditional funeral. What is more shocking however is the incorporation of the embalming process, a costly manufactured casket complete with metal decorations and interior cushions with musical accompaniments and other services such as viewing or even cremation services. This then begs the question as to what a green funeral is.
Green burials or direct burials are the types of funerals that are carried out in a manner that is friendly to the environment. The process involves interring the body which is then buried in a simple and easily biodegradable container. Its aim is to ensure that the body returns to the earth in a way that does not cause any hindrance to the natural decomposing process and also in a way that averts future hazards to the health of the public. For these goals to be attained, the preparation for the burial of the deceased body is done without using disinfectants or chemical preservatives such as the embalming fluid which interferes with the process of decomposition (Stowe, Schmidt & Green, 2001). The body is then placed in a veil or a casket that is biodegradable made from natural materials like bamboo or willow. After being prepared for burial, the body is placed in a shallow grave that is about three feet in depth. The purpose of keeping the grave shallow is to make the natural decomposition possible and avoid the use of an outer burial container or a burial vault.
The location for green burials is often in special reserves that have been specifically set aside for this purpose. Usually, the burial site is located in open woodland or countryside. The flowers, shrubs and trees are often planted in proximity and most cases over the body itself so that it is incorporated as part of the green environment. Just like the other cemeteries, in the green burials, there is the maintenance of the particular location of each of the burial sites and in some instance, they are marked using the global positioning system or GPS devices. When selecting for green burial sites, it is important to pay an advance visit to the site to inquire about the plans of such sites and that there is a proper certification for the continuous maintenance of the ground as a future burial site.
The Environmental Benefits of Green burials
In the green burials, more natural and environmentally friendly ways have been adopted as a means of laying the dead to rest. Some changes are made to the regular burial routines to ensure that the process is as close to nature as possible and that there is a timely return of the body to the earth. The use of sustainable materials is one of the ways in which the green burials are considered eco-friendly. There is an extensive use of coffins that are biodegradable instead of the usual conventional hardwood coffins or even the use of concrete vaults (Chiu, 2016). Such materials are used to ensure that they decompose along with the body to become part of the soil. Examples of such materials that can be utilized in making the biodegradable coffins include the bamboo and the sustainable wicker.
As previously noted, the embalming process which involves the use of chemicals that are harmful to the ecosystem and inhibit the microbial decomposers needed for the natural recycling of the body is avoided. The rapid decomposition of the body ensures that the cells, proteins and tissues break down almost immediately and that the pathogenic bacteria present in the gut is kept in check (Clayden & Dixon, 2007). There is an irritating odor that is associated with embalming and also the embalmers risk overexposing themselves to gasses that are toxic that increases their chances of contracting the kidney, brain and other types of cancers. The alternative use of eco-friendly embalming chemicals that do not contain formaldehyde can be employed. The traditional burial sites often fill up rapidly rendering land unusable. The green burial sites are however not easily distinguishable from the typical fields hence can be used in future as wildlife trusts when full to be used as gardens or parklands.
Costs of green burial
The funeral costs associated with direct or green burials are relatively cheap compared to that of the traditional service. The body, for instance, does not have to be embalmed, and so the cost of the funeral providers is significantly reduced. The other advantage based on cost is that the use of a casket that is biodegradable is much cheaper compared to the sophisticated woods and metallic coffins. Also, the cost of the green burial site is likely to be cheaper when compared to a cemetery plot because there are no costs required for the purchase of vaults or grave liners. The cost of the headstones is not also factored in since only small markers are needed to mark the burial sites.
Even as people seek greener options for their resting place, the funeral industry still holds an objection to the biggest challenges, even those that most preferably meet the consumer demands. The conventional funeral homes, for example, have for so long fought to pass away the notion that embalming is an expensive process. The industry has been a strong opponent of the rule that was enacted to enforce the disclosure of the itemized prices. It has suffered significant losses with the ever growing popularity of the green burial movement. Many religions such as the Muslims and Jews have incorporated the green burial practice into their traditions. Despite its simplicity, the greater goal of saving the planet can be accomplished by going the way of natural burial practices.
Chiu, A. (2016). Green Burials Bring Awareness to Environmental Concerns. US News & World Report. Retrieved 14 April 2016, from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-03-04/green-burials-bring-awareness-to-environmental-concerns
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