Why do I or why should anyone have interest in green burial? Because green burial is generally less expensive and less toxic to the environment. It also permits a more personal and natural relationship between the living and the dead, humans and the land at a time of shock, grief, and confusion. Green burial might not be the best choice for every family but unless you know what your choices are you can’t really say.
Embalmers in the US use a formaldehyde-based solution to replace arterial blood and cavity fluids in a human body to temporarily preserve a lifelike appearance for a viewing. Each year Americans bury about 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde used in embalming in US cemeteries. A known carcinogen, formaldehyde is dangerous to the people who manufacture it and to the embalmers who use it. Embalming is never required by law for families who care for their own dead. Some states require embnalming within certain timeframes when funeral professionals are involved. Temporary preservation can be achieved by refrigeration or by chilling the body core with dry ice (available at many grocery stores) or a reusable product called Techni-Ice(R) (available online).
Vaults (metals—steel, bronze, copper) and liners (concrete) enclose the coffin in a cemetery to prevent the soil above the coffin from compacting over time. Vaults can weigh between 1000 and 3000 pounds, and cost between $700-$10,000. Liners can use as much as 2600 pounds of concrete, and cost between $500-$1000. American cemeteries bury as much as 1.6 million tons of vault concrete in the US every year. State laws do not require vaults and liners. But cemeteries may require them to reduce the lawn care costs of backfilling the graves as they sink or are crushed by earth / liner moving or lawn mowing equipment. You can avoid the financial and environmental costs of these products by selecting a cemetery that does not require them. This is an important point: the liner benefits the cemeterian, not the family that pays for it. Because what does the liner do for or to the body? It prevents the body from melting back into the soil when it decomposes. After a lifetime of taking resources and energy from the earth, why would we not want to give back the little we can by putting our bodies into contact with the soil?
A quick search on the internet will show you the vast range of metal vessels and unsustainable woods you can seal a body up in—mahogany, bronze, copper, stainless steel, cherry, maple, oak. Americans bury up to 30 million board feet of oak, maple, and cherry annually, and thousands of tons of bronze, copper, and steel. The coffin options you can choose—reversible pillows, adjustable beds and mattresses, split lids, Memory Safe© storage drawers—often make little to no sense when you give them a moment’s thought. Why does a dead person need a mattress? What would you put in a storage drawer that you couldn’t put in the deceased person’s hand or tuck in the side of the box? What does it say about our values to be buried in finer furniture than we ever owned in our lives? And what do these boxes mean for our return to the earth? In most cases, even without a burial vault or liner, the molecules that used to be humans remain separated from the cycle of life for as long as the box remains intact. If you have a dust to dust view of the human body, you might need a better way.