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Green funerals

By having an environmentally friendly funeral, you are leaving a healthier planet to future generations.

So, what makes a funeral green?

  • Burial, not cremation, and a coffin made from sustainable forests or other resources - wicker/bamboo/cardboard;
  • Shallow burial, so decomposition into nutrients is fast - deep burial results in production of methane gas seeping into the environment;
  • No flowers, as these take valuable energy and resources to grow;
  • Transport used by mourners and guests will be as green as possible;
  • Alternatives to travelling long distances (and flying in particular) such as putting a recording on a website for relatives to visit;
  • Donations, instead of flowers, will go to a charity helping to defend the environment;
  • An organic reception or farewell party;
  • A woodland burial ground where they plant trees over the grave not headstones.

Woodland burial

If you are planning your own green funeral, put the details in your Lifebox so that your wishes will be carried out by your executor.

Woodland burials are becoming increasingly popular for those wanting a green funeral.

In good weather, a woodland burial can be more memorable by including appropriate activities including live music, poetry, improvised tributes and dancing to celebrate the life that has ended.   These should be agreed with the woodland burial site management.

Natural Death Centre

The prime source for unbiased information is The Natural Death Centre (NDC) a charitable project launched in 1991.

Its aims are to help people arrange inexpensive, family-organised, and environmentally-friendly funerals and to support those dying at home and their carers. It has a more general aim of helping to improve the quality of dying.

To promote and advise on green funerals, they publish The Natural Death Handbook, an invaluable and authoritative guide covering all aspects of Green Funerals.

Carbon offset funerals

There are a number of organisations that will help offset the carbon footprint of a funeral.

They normally calculate the footprint for the particular funeral and offset these by investing in projects which reduce the overall amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

ClimateCare invests in such projects in the Third World, which also helps benefit the poorest people and encouraging their use of environmentally friendly work.

Alternative funerals

Green burial is the most popular alternative funeral in the UK. However it can also be the final part, the commital or interment, of a religious service. 

Other alternatives include humanist funerals and civil ceremonies.  Far less common is burial at sea which is expensive and complex to organise.

An alternative is cremation and the ashes spread over the water or lowered to the bottom to be released when the container gradually disolves. 

Burial in private land

Burying a bio-degradable urn of cremated remains in private land is another green option. Any funeral director will know how to arrange a burial in private land, or The Natural Death Centre can advise.  

The grave has to be listed on the deeds and that can affect the resale value of the property.

New method of disposal

There is a new method of disposal that has been patented in Sweden and is also being trialled in the UK. The process is very environment friendly and is the first alternative to cremation and burial.

It is called Promession and you can read about it on the web site of the company who devised it. At present, one UK council is considering whether to install the system.

Promession was patented in 2001 by Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish biologist from Gothenburg. 

Plan for green

If you want a green funeral, plan it carefully and make it one of your funeral wishes which you can place in your Lifebox. This allows you to store, retrieve and amend information to be accessed by your custodian when you die or when you give permission.

By giving your second keyholder (normally your executor or next of kin) access to your Lifebox, he or she can open it but will not be able to edit or alter the contents.

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James Leedam wrote on 19 Sep 11 at 2:51pm
James Leedam

I see from a quick Google seach that Helen Roebuck, who commented on 23 Dec is a PR Consultant based in Norwich - home of Woodland Burial Parks http://www.hr-pr.co.uk/ Which is no doubt why her comments are such a blatant advertisement for Woodland Burial Parks.

Though I applaud Woodland Burial Parks for what they are doing, I could not describe their burial grounds as "deep in the heart of long-established, magnificent woodland". Their Chiltern site seems to consist of coniferous plantations which have been thinned to make space for burials and for the planting of new native saplings amongst the fir trees. The Norwich woods were largely colonised by invasive Sycamore trees which were being cut down to make space for burials and new native saplings. The woodland no longer feels or looks completely natural as the many memorials and grave gardening has taken over.

More balance please and keep an eye out for blatant advertising such as Helen's.

Helen Roebuck wrote on 23 Dec 10 at 1:24pm
Helen Roebuck

Woodland Burials

The term woodland burial is often used to refer to two very different options, so it’s recommended you don’t make presumptions!

The fundamental difference is ‘future’ v ‘existing’ woodland. Many, if indeed not most, woodland burial site operators plant saplings to mark graves. These sites range from open farmland to land bordering woodland to simply spaces allocated for ‘green burials’.

In years to come they may indeed become true woodland cemeteries, but in the short term they are, at best, plantations. And it’s important to bear in mind that trees need room to grow. Management of these ‘future forests’ may inevitably involve coppicing or even the felling of some trees.

On the other hand, mature woodland cemeteries offer something quite different i.e. natural burials deep in the heart of long-established, magnificent woodland. Sector leaders such as Woodland Burial Parks (www.woodlandburialparks.co.uk) insist on natural, biodegradable memorials and are committed to woodland management plans that are designed to increase the biodiversity of the cemetery. Such sites focus on the restoration and enhancement of our woodland and forests – preserving precious resources for generations to come.

Graves sites are carefully chosen to protect the roots of native trees, with memorial options including nest boxes for birds, bats and insects.

Yes, in death, as in life, it pays to look before you leap!

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