Dust to Dust: A breakdown of eco-friendly funeral caskets

A commitment to sustainability in life can be honored in death.

Close up of purple flower blooming in dirt to signify choosing an eco conscious funeral.

Why choose an eco-friendly casket?

Many people are looking to leave a smaller impact on the environment, both in life and after. Choosing more environmentally friendly options for a funeral or memorial service can help minimize your footprint. An eco-friendly casket is just one way to minimize your impact on the earth. You can learn more about green funerals here.

A brief history of caskets

Although green burials are gaining traction as a new trend these days, green burials are as old as burial itself. Although not referred to as “eco-friendly” back then, burial containers made of wood, paper and cloth were used in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The earliest evidence of wooden coffins was discovered in China, dating all the way back to 5000 BC, while large, flat stones were used to bury Celtic nobility around 700 AD.

In the United States, cabinet makers and millworkers fashioned caskets out of wood. The mass production of wooden coffins came about during the Civil War, when the sheer number of casualties created a demand. Metal caskets didn’t come into fashion until the mid-19th century, when Dr. Almond Fisk created a cast-iron casket with a bronze finish and a “window” made of glass. He claimed it was indestructible and air-tight and would protect the deceased from the elements. Today, caskets come in many different materials, colors and even shapes, but most of them are not biodegradable. However, there are still options to choose from if you’re interested in a green burial. After all, the elements are, as is death, a part of nature.

Types of green caskets

‘Green,’ or eco-friendly caskets, are made of natural materials that decompose easily and will have as minimal an impact on the earth as possible. While people typically think of caskets as being wood, the modern casket also uses other materials that won’t break down easily, including metals, some fabrics, plastic laminate, and varnishes. While traditional caskets eventually decompose, they do so much slower than green caskets, and although they have a minimal direct impact on the environment, there are more eco-beneficial options.

Wood – Similar to traditional caskets, eco-friendly wood caskets can be made from oak, elm, pine, birch, maple, poplar, and willow trees. To have the smallest environmental impact, wood should be sourced from local-growing species that aren’t endangered. Eco-friendly wood caskets are untreated, meaning no varnish, stains or lacquer are used. They also are made completely from wood—including handles and any embellishments. At French Funerals & Cremations, we can walk you through your green casket options and help you choose the right casket for your loved one, or yourself if you’re planning ahead.

Wicker – These types of caskets can use a variety of different materials to weave into a burial container, including willow, bamboo, seagrass, hemp, willow, or rattan, to name a few. Yucca, a plant native to New Mexico, can be used to weave a basket-like casket to create a meaningful vessel for a loved one.

Cloth – Although not technically casket materials, biodegradable fabrics can be used to wrap a loved one to be buried. Eco-friendly fabrics must not be dyed, or only use plant-based dyes, and cannot be made of synthetic materials. 100% cotton, linen, silk, and hemp are all types of fabrics that look nice while leaving a zero footprint.

A natural burial

Any cemetery will allow you to use an eco-friendly casket. But that doesn’t mean every cemetery is equipped for or allows green burials. Many cemeteries require families to purchase a vault that the casket will be laid in underground, to prolong decomposition and preserve the maintenance of the grounds. However, as green funerals grow in popularity, many cemeteries and memorial gardens are now allowing eco-friendly burials in select areas.

Saying goodbye is deeply personal, and we know that every family and every funeral is different. We’re always available to answer your questions, whether it’s to learn more about green funerals, ask us about our funeral and cremation services, or to find grief support. Reach out at any time at 505-275-7200, or find the French location nearest you.

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