green burial definition

What is Green Burial?

The green burial definition is one that has changed over the years. Green burial’s primary purpose is to ensure that the bodies of our deceased can return to the earth in a way that does not poison it.

The process requires that there is nothing with the body that could hinder the decomposition process. In other words, there is no gasketed coffin, no cremated remains, no embalming chemicals, no concrete and rebar lined gravesite, no hard plastic grave liner. Instead, green burial ensures that we return to the earth simply, inexpensively, and in a way that best benefits the environment.

How Did Green Burials Start?

Green burial is not new. Since the dawn of humankind, we’ve buried our un-embalmed dead in a simple hole in the ground. Until just 150 years ago, most Americans lived and died close to home. They were usually buried on nearby land, in a shroud or simple pine box when they died.

The Civil War changed all that. Suddenly, young men had to travel far from home to fight in the war. Casualties on both sides were enormous, with 620,000 soldiers dying from a combination of combat, accident, starvation, and disease.

With the staggering number of casualties, came another pressing question – how to get the dead back home to their families for a proper burial?

Enter the embalming industry. Enterprising individuals with a basic understanding of chemistry quickly figured out that a body pumped full of embalming fluid decomposed at a much slower rate than a corpse left untreated.

In turn, embalming meant that dead soldiers were shipped home and buried by their families. The competition quickly became fierce. Embalmers set up shop near battlefields and even displaying examples of their latest work.

Death Grew To A Multi-Billion Dollar Polluting Industry

From this point forward, caring for the dead became a business. Families that previously buried their loved ones themselves began paying funeral service companies to do it for them instead. These funeral companies quickly realized that the more products and services they sold, the more money they made.

Coffins rapidly evolved from simple pine boxes to oak and bronze units with plush velvet interiors. Instead of displaying the body in the front parlor of their home, people instead paid to have their loved one in an embalmed shroud.

Further, they dressed bodies in their finest clothes, with an open casket viewing at the local funeral parlor. Also, the graveyard business grew quickly.

Firstly selling plots, then adding services such a concrete and rebar-lined burial vaults. Finally, monument companies evolved from simple headstones to ever more elaborate pieces.

Green Burial Became Essential

As a result, the modern funeral industry now hires approximately 130,000 employees and earns over $20 billion in fees annually. However, in a rush for profits, the funeral industry has overlooked the products and services they sell. Cremation, embalming, concrete burial vaults, plastic grave liners, varnished coffins poison the earth.

Enter green burial. This disposition method is specifically designed to ensure that our last act on the planet is to give back to it. We at Return Home think of this as paying the gift of life forward.

Green Burial Definition

The narrow definition of green burial means simply placing a person in the earth with only biodegradable materials. Further, we never use chemicals or embalming fluids of any kind. That said, we at Return Home take a more expansive view of green burial.

For example, we include all disposition methods that accelerate the natural conversion of human remains to the earth. Our human composting process happens without the aid of chemicals or fossil fuels, mirroring the way nature transforms death into new life.

green burial definition

Green Burial Methods

There are currently three green disposition methods that will be legal in Washington State as of May 1, 2020.

  1. Green burial. With green burial, there is no cremation, embalming, or preserving with any chemicals. A coffin or shroud (if used) is entirely biodegradable, and the body doesn’t have a burial vault of any kind. There are sometimes pine boxes for burial. The body returns to the earth.
  2. Alkaline hydrolysis (water cremation). The body is placed in a pressurized vessel filled with a mixture of water and potassium hydroxide and heated to over 300°F. This process breaks the body down into parts, leaving a liquid that can be safely dumped into the sewer system or in a garden or green space. The family can have the small amount of remaining bone residue, much akin to cremation.
  3. Human composting (terramation). Terramation involves placing the body into a specially purposed vessel with alfalfa, woodchips, and sawdust. Then, the body gently terramates into soil over approximately 60 days. We don’t use any additives, corrosives, or chemicals. And a cubic yard of fertile soil is the result. 

In order to fully grasp the green burial definition, we must answer the question, “What is human composting?

Choose A Green Burial Option That Feels Right

Each of these disposition methods has its respective advantages and disadvantages. To learn more about each of these methodologies, learn more about our process

Insofar as the environment is concerned, all of these disposition options are fantastic choices. But, that said, these decisions are deeply emotional for the individuals and families involved. So the key is to choose a disposition method that feels right. After all, this is the last act each of us will make on this earth, so make sure it’s one you both feel good about, and that leaves the planet a better place than you found it.

Return Home is now providing immediate death care services nationwide. Call (206) 888-HOME (4663) for more information.