How to plan an eco friendly, green funeral

Four minute read

More of us are asking what we can do to protect the environment and one important way to make a difference is our approach to death. Planning an eco-friendly funeral can be a powerful parting gift to the planet, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s our guide to creating an eco-friendly funeral, from some of the most sustainable coffins to natural burials.

Choosing the most sustainable coffin

Wood is a very popular choice for coffins, but it’s not always the most sustainable option. When you’re planning an eco-friendly funeral, it can be helpful to ask if the wood is reclaimed, where it’s been sourced from and whether the tree is endangered in the wild.

A good place to get started is checking for an accreditation from the Forest Stewardship Council, an NGO which protects against illegal logging. You can also ask whether the coffin includes plastic or metals — which may be included in the handles and linings.

There’s also a growing market for coffins made of more sustainable materials like willow, cardboard, banana leaf, bamboo, and even wool. Sustainable coffins can be very beautiful, so there’s no need to compromise on quality. Of course, you could also forgo a coffin altogether and opt for a simple shroud. We can help guide you through the options, so do feel free to ask for support.

Read our guide to the most eco-friendly coffins.

A natural alternative to embalming

At Poppy's, we take a very natural and gentle approach to caring for those who have died. We believe that simply washing someone and keeping them cool in a fridge is the best way of looking after them between their death and their funeral.

Not only is this the gentlest way of looking after someone, it’s also the best for the environment.

Embalming someone who has died is not generally necessary and the chemicals involved in embalming (which usually include formaldehyde) may have an impact on those using them and also on the environment. There’s also evidence that suggests it might affect our groundwater sources and the surrounding land.

Read more about our natural approach to death care.

Is cremation eco-friendly?

While there are lots of good reasons to be cremated, it isn’t a very energy-efficient process. The amount of energy that goes into a single cremation isn’t far off what most of us use at home over an entire month. It also releases greenhouse gases and other chemicals into the atmosphere, like mercury and dioxins.

But a burial can be more expensive and it isn’t always a practical choice for some people. The good news is that ashes don’t have a strong environmental impact as long as they don’t include material like plastic and metal. You can also choose a biodegradable urn or even use the ashes to help grow a tree.

How to choose the greenest burial

Burials can have different effects on the environment, depending on where they take place and how the land is looked after. The upside of choosing a local cemetery is that you won’t have to drive very far to visit.

The downside is the energy that goes into looking after the land, which needs to be mowed, watered and fertilised. Choosing somewhere without a big lawn can make a difference if you’re hoping for an eco-friendly burial.

Another environmentally-friendly option is a ‘natural’ or ‘green’ burial, where the person who has died is buried in green space without anything to slow down decomposition. By making the land into a burial site, the landowners are protecting the land from future development — and bringing back native plants and animals.

The downside is that the people coming to visit are usually driving and sometimes from a long distance away.

Not all natural burial sites are regulated in the same way, so try to make sure they belong to the Association of Natural Burial Grounds. This means that they’re bound by the Natural Death Centre’s Code of Conduct.

We can make suggestions about what might work well for you. At their best, green burials can be beautiful, peaceful and sustainable, making this a strong eco-friendly candidate.

Other creative ways to save the planet

It can be helpful to think creatively about different ways to make a funeral more eco-friendly. For example, cut flowers are often shipped long distances and usually come wrapped in plastic. Instead, you can buy living plants or even pick your own, whether that’s fresh roses from your garden or vegetables to represent a well-loved allotment.

Other possibilities could be using an electric vehicle or requesting people plant memorial trees. We’re proud to soon have an electric hearse and can also help support your own version of an eco-friendly journey — whether that’s by bike, bus, or something different.

Mushroom alert: the future of eco-friendly funerals

It’s an exciting time for eco-friendly funerals, with lots of new ideas and technologies. One intrepid artist has even invented a burial suit of mushrooms.

In America, the company Recompose has opened a facility to “gently convert human remains into soil”.

Water cremation, also known as resomation, should be available in the UK in the near future. Resomation burns less energy and produces fewer chemical by-products than flame cremation, by using water and potassium hydroxide to speed up decomposition.

For now, before we can all order our own mushroom suits, the most eco-friendly choice is a natural burial, using biodegradable materials, and without embalming. But there are lots of good reasons why this won’t work for everyone. You shouldn’t feel pressured to choose something which doesn’t feel right.

We can help you decide which route to go down, and support your unique version of an environmentally-friendly funeral.

We’re always happy to answer questions about planning an eco-friendly funeral, so please get in touch.

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