With the increased attention on green burial, and death in general lately, there is bound to be some confusion. It doesn't help that every state and province have their own set of rules and regulations when it comes to handling the dead. Over the past few years we've received numerous questions from you about what you are or are not allowed to do with bodies, including green disposition. With this in mind, we present to you part three of our Green Burial Series, where Ellen Newman of the Green Burial Society debunks common myths and misconceptions about green burial.
Green Burial Myths Debunked
1. Green Burial is illegal
However, each individual cemetery will have its own by-laws, and those by-laws will dictate what types of burials can take place there; which means that a cemetery may not allow a green burial, even if it is legal in the jurisdiction where the cemetery is located. Call your local cemetery to see if green burial is permitted!
2. All burials must have a concrete vault
A vault or grave liner is a concrete box, often lined with a toxic polymer. The casket is placed within the vault and the vault is buried with the casket in the grave. The primary purpose of the vault is to protect the cemetery grounds, as it will prevent the formation of a depression in the earth when a casket exposed to the soil and moisture underground eventually collapses. Whether or not a vault is required is generally dependent on cemetery by-laws.
A green or natural burial ground will likely have a by-law that prohibits vaults or grave liners. A traditional cemetery may have a section where no vaults are required, or only require them if a “double depth” grave is purchased – where a casket buried at the lower depth would need to be in a vault. Again, it is best the check with your local cemetery to determine their particular by-laws.
3. Green burials can’t use machinery or technology
Both the Green Burial Society of Canada and the Green Burial Council set out principles that encourage reducing the use of machinery or technology in the function or maintenance of a green burial ground. For example: hand-digging a grave would be the ideal and is currently practiced in some cemeteries, but this might not always be a possibility. Insurance, or legal factors may require the use of machinery or devices in the cemetery. In colder climates, opening the ground for burial in the winter might not be possible without the use of machinery (it sure does get cold in Canada), and storing an unembalmed body in a refrigerated storage unit until the ground softens would use up energy and resources.
It is most likely not possible to transfer a body to a green cemetery without driving a vehicle (though the vehicle could be electric!). At the end of the day, green burial is about best practices and reducing your environmental footprint. No practice is perfect.
4. You can’t have a casket if you are having a green burial
Direct earth burial more specifically refers to burial without a concrete vault or grave liner, as opposed to the type of container in direct contact with the body. In other words, you can have a casket with a green burial, so long as it is made with biodegradable materials (something we cover in detail here). An alternative to a green casket, would be a burial shroud that would biodegrade at a faster rate. Direct earth burial is a basic principle of both the Green Burial Society of Canada and the Green Burial Council. For more information on choosing a green burial container, refer to Part 2 of this series.
5. Dead bodies not protected by a vault can contaminate or leach toxins into the earth
6. Animals will be able to easily get to the body
It is generally reported that a smell barrier of 18 – 24 inches of soil from the tip of the nose of a corpse to the soil surface will prevent any detection by humans or animals. As green burial is recommended to be at a depth of 3 – 4 feet, a body enclosed in a casket or a shroud will have the required depth of soil above it as a smell barrier. The Green Burial Council has stated there have been no reports of animals trying to dig up graves to date. The shallow depth of graves in green burial grounds not only allow greater oxygen levels that aid in decomposition, but beneficial bugs and organisms are better able to aid in that process as well, as they are present in soil that is closer to the surface. In other words, green burial would encourage some animals – insects, etc - to easily get at the body so they can aid in decomposition.
In part one of our series we answered your frequently asked questions about green burial. In part two we showed you 11 different ways you can be eco-friendly in death. Like many other innovations, there are bound to be many misconceptions. Green burial is no different.
Have any other questions about green burial? Let us know in the comment section below!