Green Burials

© Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

© Copyright Penny Mayes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Chad McGreevey, a local funeral director with Zeis-McGreevey Funeral Home in Lakewood, OH and Berry-McGreevey Funeral Home in Westlake, OH, who is certified in green burials by the Green Burial Council, recently gave a talk to the Bay Village Green Team on the subject. Below are the highlights of his talk, which contains useful stats and details on how to start planning your own green burial. Make sure to include information in your will if you wish to be buried in this sustainable way.

The negative environmental impacts of cemetery burials in the U.S. alone include burying:

  • 4.3 million gallons o f embalming fluid containing 827,060 gallons of formaldehyde

  • 20 million board feet of hardwoods

  • 1.6 million tons of concrete (concrete production is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions)

  • 17,000 tons of copper & bronze

  • 64,500 tons of steel

Furthermore, the cemeteries require regular applications of pesticide, herbicides, and fertilizers that enter the water table and endanger human health. Additionally, they require concrete vaults and regular mowing, which burns fossil fuels. Also, morticians have a higher rate of cancer due to exposure to embalming fluids. Those working in the funeral home wear sensors that let them know if they are getting high levels of exposure to the fluids.

The negative environmental impacts of cremation include:

  • use of fossil fuels to maintain an oven temperature of 1900 degree Fahrenheit for two or more hours

  • releases mercury and other elements into the air and water (Great Britain estimates cremation accounts for 16% of these emissions)

  • produces more than 250 lbs. of CO2 per cremation

  • produces byproduct emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, and particulates

Throughout most of history humans were naturally buried without embalming fluids or elaborate caskets and cement vaults. In fact, the natural "green burial" is still the traditional burial in most Muslim burials and some Jewish burials.

Traditional Green Burials:

  • preserve and restore habitat

  • conserve natural resources

  • reduce carbon emissions

  • eliminate toxic chemical embalming

  • eliminate metal and wood caskets

  • eliminate concrete, fiberglass, or plastic vaults

  • encourage locally sourced biodegradable containers

  • encourage family participation

  • can still have visitation with open casket and religious funeral ceremony. Scent is rarely an issue unless the body was not found shortly after death. Refrigeration of the body shortly after death by the green funeral home prevents decay and scent.

  • can help in land preservation if you choose to be buried at a conservation burial site, that also doubles as a park and nature preserve, like Foxfield Preserve in Northern Ohio.

  • cost significantly less than other burial methods, on average. Green burials average $4000 - $5000, whereas non-green burials average in the $8,000 - $10,000 range.

Types of Green Burial Cemeteries:

  1. Hybrid Burial Grounds - allow both green burials, with no vaults and biodegradable containers, alongside non-green burials that have vaults, non-biodegradable containers, and embalming

  2. Natural Burial Grounds - only allow green burials that prohibit toxic chemicals, non-organic caskets, vaults, and non-native markers

  3. Conservation Burial Grounds - on easement or land trust. Land preservation with burial fees creating revenue stream to further conserve, restore, and utilize the land for recreation. May contain recreation paths and nature centers. Closest to Cleveland, OH is a nonprofit land conservancy called Foxfield Preserve

Resource for Green Burials: