If you're in the midst of planning your estate and funeral arrangements and are keen to have a green burial, where you basically leave no trace of yourself or of burial chemicals and materials, there could be some hiccups that make a totally green burial troublesome over time. Having a green death is becoming increasingly popular, but you should be aware that if you opt for burial over cremation, you may have to take great pains -- and be OK with no one being able to find your grave -- to make it totally green. Here's a look at some of the obstacles you may face if you try to go totally green, and how compromising with a traditional cemetery may be best.
Potentially No Headstone and No Memory
It is possible to do a totally green burial where you're not embalmed, the casket is biodegradable, and nothing that goes with you is nondegradable other than your bones. But that also means you won't have a headstone, and there may be no permanent marker of where you're buried save for property plans that indicate a grave (and plans can be lost). There are companies that offer to place a locator chip in the area, so people with smartphones or RFID readers can find you, but that makes the burial not totally green, and it also makes your relatives dependent on the chips continuing to work.
It also means you have to find a piece of land where you'll be allowed to be buried like that -- not all cemeteries will allow totally plain burials with no record. You may have to look into buying land yourself and getting the local permits necessary to allow a burial. That can take a lot of time and money, and you may want to compromise by arranging for a regular cemetery burial with a headstone and liner. At the very least, you'll be able to request no embalming and to use biodegradable materials as much as possible, and people will still be able to find your grave.
Cemeteries Try to Help
The Federal Trade Commission requires cemeteries to allow people to supply their own coffins instead of being required to buy one from a specific funeral home. However, cemeteries often have their own regulations for how people are buried on the property. So you can provide your own biodegradable paper coffin, for example, but the cemetery you work with may require the biodegradable paper coffin to be ensconced in a decidedly nonbiodegradable concrete grave liner. Sometimes these liners have holes in them to let material flow into the soil as it degrades, so it's worth asking your funeral planners if they offer this option.
Features such as no embalming fluid may make green burials seem welcome, but if there are extenuating circumstances regarding your death, such as suspicious circumstances that require your body to be kept for a few days or longer at the morgue, you may end up getting embalmed anyway. For example, the state of Pennsylvania requires bodies kept for over 24 hours to either be embalmed or kept in a sealed container -- yet, other than for religious or medical reasons, there's no indication of who decides which route to take. So an unidentified body that no longer needs to be examined medically may end up being embalmed.
That doesn't necessarily mean you'll have wasted money on your funeral, and there's really no way to predict whether you'll ever end up in this situation. But this legal embalming would certainly prevent your burial from being totally green, and it's a possibility you need to be aware of.
Given that there are so many possibilities that could happen when you die, it may be best to have the main burial fall in line with what a traditional cemetery requires, but to work with the cemetery to be as green as possible. If you want to discuss your options with a funeral home in your area, click this link.