Is Green Burial or Cremation Better for the Environment?

Weighing the environmental impact of a funeral against your values and priorities. 

Warm sunset shining through trees

If you’ve spent a lifetime sorting your recyclables and riding a bike to work to cut down on your emissions, it makes sense for those values to follow you through to the end of your life, and in the way you honor your loved ones who pass on. But there are multiple ways to return to the earth, and each method has its benefits and drawbacks. What you choose depends on your priorities, values, and individual circumstances.

There are no wrong answers here – but understanding your options will help you make a choice that fits your needs.

Burial and cremation both affect the environment

The environmental impact of a burial depends entirely on how the burial is completed. Traditional burial often uses durable, long-lasting materials like treated hardwood or metal, which take a very long time to break down in nature. A concrete vault liner that separates the casket from the soil adds even more material that will take time to break down.

Cremation side-steps these problems. Instead of rare hardwoods or precious metals, cremation containers are usually made of a cardboard-like material. Cremated remains take up very little space, can be stored or buried in a biodegradable urn, and will not harm the environment. However, cremation burns a tremendous amount of fossil fuel, and it can release chemicals into the atmosphere.

Offsetting the environmental impact of a funeral

Green burial containers are made of wicker, cardboard, untreated wood, or even plain cloth burial shrouds with no casket. There are no vault liners, and burials are completed at a shallower depth to help a body return to nature more quickly. Other small details can make a difference as well. Many people who choose green funerals also opt to forgo embalming, skip flowers at the service, and use digital programs rather than printed ones, for example.

One option that’s both practical and meaningful is to plant a tree as part of the service or in a loved one’s honor. Not only are trees a powerful symbol of life and living memorial, they neutralize carbon emissions. Within two years, a freshly planted tree completely offsets the impact of cremation. Many people choose to have cremation ashes mixed with soil and used as planting medium for a sapling, allowing for a carbon-neutral way to lay a loved one to rest. You can also arrange for guests to donate toward tree planting rather than buying flowers.

Let your values guide your priorities

Because green burials are designed to minimize their environmental impact, they are generally more eco-friendly than cremation. However, green burial does still use up land.

Conservation cemeteries seek to offset this by keeping the surroundings as natural as possible. Burials take place on protected natural land, and money is used toward continuing conservation efforts. However, this type of cemetery can be inconvenient for families to visit, and there aren’t many conservation cemeteries to choose from. An earth-friendly compromise might be to choose a mixed-use cemetery, where land in a more traditional cemetery is set aside for green burial.

French Funerals & Cremations has been helping Albuquerque families honor their loved ones for more than a century. From traditional funerals to cremations and fully green burials, we can help you plan a unique and personalized service that best fits your needs and values. Reach out to begin preplanning your arrangements, or call us at 505-275-7200 for guidance and assistance in laying a loved one to rest more naturally.

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