If you are here, you may have recently heard about natural burials as an alternative to traditional burials. And as an open-minded individual, you may be trying to understand what it is exactly, especially as you try to keep an open mind regarding your end-of-life processes and steps while seeking a safer alternative to traditional burial customs and procedures.
In this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about natural burials, what they are, who they are for, services, and the options available, among others. So, let’s jump right into things!
What is Natural Burial?
If you are looking for a burial arrangement that doesn’t conform with the traditional customs but one that better conforms with your attitudes and beliefs towards death and other personal philosophies, natural birth might be an ideal fit for you.
This emerging alternative can be defined as an attempt at returning the body to the earth in the most natural way possible.
A natural burial doesn’t involve the use of the burial vault, the embalming fluid, or a casket. Instead, the human remains are placed back into the earth directly, and the body is allowed to decompose naturally.
Natural burials, therefore, have the most minimal impact on the environment. In some cases of natural burials, the bodies of the deceased can be buried in biodegradable caskets or in some simple forms of burial shrouds, as long as the shroud or vessel used will not inhibit the body’s natural decomposition in any way whatsoever.
In other words, and as expected, natural burials don’t involve the use of heavy equipment or heavy machinery for digging the gravesites since the gravesites are dug up by hand.
That said, the natural burial shouldn’t be confused with the green burial, and in as much as they have a lot in common, these two are quite different approaches to burials, and they have different sets of procedures.
The main difference between natural burials and green burials is that natural burial is pretty much the most natural way of laying the dead, and it’s very eco-friendly. Now, while the use of the term the ‘green’ burial would appear to mean the same exact thing, and people end up using these two terms interchangeably, the truth is that there is a difference between them. For example, while the natural burial can still happen in the traditional cemetery, the green burial calls for the use of a special kind of cemetery.
Also, the term natural burial is used strictly to refer to the actual burial process; that is, the opening and the closure of the grave, as well as the preparation of the remains, along with the actual laying of the remains in a designated burial plot.
‘Green Burial,’ on the other hand, refers to the burial process, although it further encompasses the cemetery where the burial takes place. For Green Burials, there are Green Cemeteries – there is no use of artificial pesticides in these cemeteries, and none of the bodies buried in the green cemeteries are embalmed or even buried in the traditional caskets.
In other words, the term ‘natural burial’ is used to refer to the burial process strictly, while the ‘green burial’ refers to both the burial process as well as the special cemetery where the burial happens.
So, if you are looking to leave a smaller carbon footprint on earth upon your demise, the idea of a natural burial or even a green burial might be an appealing perfect option for you.
Advantages of a Natural Burial?
Although the idea of natural burials has been around for years, it’s only grown in popularity as one of the available options in the recent past. Wondering why this is the case, and also why it might be a great option for you? Below are the main advantages of natural burials (over the traditional burials and even cremation).
Fewer toxins in the environment – The 100% natural process of burying the deceased is devoid of toxins, which means that you are in the trade or live near a place with a cemetery where natural burials take place; there are no toxins emitted to the environment.
Conservation of metallic resources – Essentially, the casket you end up choosing is something that makes a great difference in and to the environment. Although caskets are glorified as the standards for burials, the caskets are made of metals to a large percentage, most often, steel. Steel is a resource-intensive metal, which means that choosing to go the natural burial path saves your loved one’s cash while also saving the world some of its resources.
Wood resources conservation – The traditional burial involves the use of a significant amount of wood, especially for the casket. The wooden casket is, unfortunately, resource-intensive, and with the use of precious woods like Cherry and Mahogany for caskets, traditional burials are wasteful, to say the least. Also, the quality of these furniture-grade wooden caskets fails to meet the Green Initiatives and are, therefore, regarded as resource-heavy. A natural burial, on the contrary, may sometimes involve the use of wooden caskets, but only if the wooden material used is highly biodegradable – think bamboo wood or even wicker/ rattan, if not silk or cardboard, or pretty much any other natural materials that break down into the earth easily.
Carbon Footprint Reduction – This is easily one of the biggest benefits that come from going the natural burial path. This is because, unlike cremation, which calls for the use of a significant amount of fossil fuels, hence high energy consumption for the process, natural burials involve the use of minimal energy, and it’s quite friendly to the environment. Keep in mind that cremation can be unfriendly to the environment when you think of the smoke emitted and the fossil fuels used.
Creation of a safer environment – Most of us are hoping for a safer environment for the next generations, and what better way to experience and be part of that than through a natural burial? Without the use of concrete and steel and expensive transportation to burial sites through caskets and vaults, and without the use of the embalming fluid or the long process of cremation that only leads to the production of the copious level of carbon dioxide and other noxious fumes, all bad for the environment, a natural burial is easily the next-best alternative.
Natural habitats conservation – The other advantage of a natural burial is that it allows for a higher level of conservation because some is buried in the most natural way – no gravestone and the land one is buried in is easily returned to its natural state. Forests can thrive, flowers can be planted, and the view of the surrounding properties will remain unobstructed. The best part is that the land used for natural burials could easily remain in their most natural states and beautiful, serving as conservation easements.
A great sense of control over your body – The best part about a natural burial is that it is an extension of the natural birth movement. In other words, it is a process that allows you great control over your body in its natural phases. So, if you are one of the persons that believe embalming is disrespectful to the human body and unnatural, a natural burial might be an excellent option for you.
High cost of the traditional funerals/ burials – Essentially, American funerals are responsible for the felling of as much as 30 million in board feet for casket wood, including tropical hardwoods, 90,000 tons of steel, 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, and 1.6 million tons of concrete for the burial vaults. Cremation is also just as nightmarish to the environment, with one cremation/ incineration process emitting numerous noxious substances, including sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, dioxin, and climate-changing levels of carbon dioxide. With these in mind, anyone interested in saving the environment would have to pay a lot of attention to greener alternatives such as natural burials.
Good for the ground – A natural burial ground naturally promoted the restoration of any poor soil areas/ conditions, and it allows for the re-use of the land in the long-term.
Who is a natural burial for?
So, who is the natural funeral/ burial ideal for?
Well, while the idea of a natural burial has always been around, it wasn’t a common thing in the developed countries until the early 1990s – this was when there was a resurgence in the interests in natural burials in Britain. This movement in parts of Britain was ignited when British cemeteries became crowded, leading to the public becoming aware of just how limited land, as a natural resource, is. In the US, the land is in plenty, unlike Britain (which is pretty much an island), but with limits to the acreage that can be dedicated to burial using the traditional methods, it made sense of natural burials to be a thing.
In the earliest days, natural burials were associated with a specific form of spirituality, and the persons choosing to be buried this way were deeply connected to nature on a spiritual level. But this isn’t the only reason why you may choose a natural burial?
The other reasons and people who opt for a natural burial include:
People who’ve lived a life too close to nature
Persons who’ve made a stand against the destruction of the environment most of their lives
Families that desire purposeful burial options
Different individuals and families that the natural burial option makes sense to
Natural Burial Service
The burial service is pretty much done as the traditional service would be but without the use of non-degradable materials. What this means is that the burial is done really fast, after one is deceased, typically hours after death.
Generally, a natural burial offers a more personalized send-off, but it doesn’t cost as much as the traditional burial. In addition to the cost of the permit and the burial plot, the service costs are organized by the next-of-kin, who can choose a simple or an extravagant send-off. The honorarium would cost between $150 and $300.
The burial vessel has to be accounted for as well. As mentioned above, the vessel chosen must be a 100% eco-friendly option, perhaps one made of bamboo or cardboard, and if wood must be used, then you’d choose softwoods like maple, pine, or oak. The burial clothing also needs to be made of natural fibers that are 100% biodegradable – which is why there are cases where the bodies are buried nude or only wrapped in a burial shroud.
Natural Burial Options
Essentially, a natural burial is great for pro-environmentalists or people looking for environmentally-safe alternatives for send-offs. In natural burials, there is typically no use of upright monuments, which means that the land can be reused. The individual graves are often identified using markers that are flush with the ground and at the head of the body. Often, the markers used are in the form of natural rocks or plaques, not concrete. But in most cases, the natural burial sites have no physical markers; instead, the grave locations are shown using GPS locations.
So, which is your best option?
Well, as you can imagine, there are no headstones used in natural burial, embalming fluid is forbidden, but plants and flowers can be grown on the gravesite directly.
For the preservation of the natural landscape and for the protection of native plants, as well as wildlife, most of the cemeteries would limit the use of personal plantings, as well as the use of memorial decorations such as chimes, flags, wreaths, balloons, and potted plants. The use of machinery is forbidden as well.
As you can tell, there really aren’t too many options when it comes to natural burials because the intention is to keep things as natural as possible.
- Conservation Burial
Conservation Burial takes things to the next step by burying the dead in a nature preserve and not in a traditional cemetery. This approach utilizes part of the burial fee to permanently protect and maintain this part of the natural environment. Choosing the Conservation Burial, therefore, means that you make a positive impact on the environment by securing that habitat for wildlife, also preserving a habitat that is already very rich in both flora and fauna, while also helping in the management of natural lands.
- Cremation in natural burials
Cremation is an option for natural burials too, but the cremation remains must be buried in biodegradable containers. The burial will be done in the ground directly, and the remains mounded and covered over with the same soil that was dug out. Often, the location is recorded permanently using GPS.
- Hybrid cemeteries
This is an idea adopted by people who are not willing to go all 9 yards on the natural burial thing. It involves the use of conventional aspects of the burial in the entire cemetery or designated areas. There is no use of vaults in these cemeteries, meaning that you could use a biodegradable burial vessel like one made of softwood for the casket and a burial shroud for the body.
Natural Burial Frequently Asked Questions
Why isn’t the embalming fluid used in natural burials? And isn’t it a legal requirement to use embalming fluid?
The fluid isn’t organic, and it affects how the body decomposes naturally, meaning that its use wouldn’t be fitting in a natural burial. Regarding the laws on embalming fluid use, the truth is that the use of the embalming fluid is more of a thing that society has embraced as a standard, but it is not a legal requirement for burials. That said, whether to use the embalming fluid or not might be something you have to discuss with a licensed funeral director.
Is cremation a viable option for natural burials?
Yes. Note, however, that the process would be altered slightly for compliance with the natural burial cemetery laws/ rules.
Why not use traditional headstones, caskets,/ vaults for natural burials?
Well, these items are not eco-friendly, and they do not conform with the rules of natural burials.
Can bodies be buried without caskets, legally?
Yes, and there are no state laws that require the use of caskets for burials. This means that if you so choose, someone could be interred in the earth without a casket; sometimes, nude. But some funeral homes will set up rules regarding casket use.
Won’t animals disturb the gravesite?
Though it seems like an imminent risk, animals won’t disturb the grave. The reason for this is that the gravesites are dug to about 3.5feet underground, meaning that even the wild boar, which is the most deep-digging animal, will not reach the site. The deepest this animal can burrow is 12 inches.
If you have been thinking about alternative burial methods and natural burial seems like an appealing option, this article sheds light on all the important aspects of natural burials. Unlike traditional burials, natural burials cost less, and they offer a way for you to reduce your carbon footprint while saving your loved ones high burial costs.