What is a Green Funeral?

A green funeral (also known as a “green burial” or “natural burial”) is a funeral that seeks to make as little impact upon the environment as possible. Green funerals are different from traditional burials in that they have some or all of the following elements:

  • Burying the body at a green burial site
  • Burying the body in an environmentally conscious green coffin, casket or shroud
  • Burying the body without a grave liner or burial vault
  • Dressing the body in biodegradable clothing
  • Preparing the body without, chemical preservatives and disinfectants
  • Having no headstone or a green headstone
  • Engaging the services of a specialist green funeral director

An example of a typical green funeral would be where the body is prepared without embalming, dressed in simple biodegradable clothing without jewellery, and placed in a shroud or biodegradable coffin. In Australia it is not yet permitted to bury without any outer covering. The body is then buried in a specially designated green cemetery or bushland area where, rather than marking the grave with a large marble headstone, there is either no headstone or a natural marker (such as an engraved stone, tree or flowers). Sometimes the only marker will be satellite navigation coordinates. Finally, instead of requiring the body to be buried 6 feet under (which requires heavy earthmoving equipment) green graves are dug at a depth of around 3 feet.

Kemps Creek Green Cemetery
The Sydney Natural Burial Park at Kemps Creek

Why Have a Green Burial?

For many Australians, having a green funeral is appealing as it’s a way to leave the world with minimal impact to the environment. It’s a trend that’s growing in popularity as shown by the increasing number of green burial sites across Australia. Globally, the UK has also increased it’s green burial sites from just one fifteen years ago to over 270 today, and a US study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council found that 64% of people aged 40+ expressed an interest in green burials – a 21% increase from a similar survey they conducted in 2010.

Many people view a green burial as a more natural way to be memorialised, with roots stretching back to a time before the commercialisation and industrialisation of the funeral industry. However, by far the main reason people choose a green funeral is that it’s significantly more environmentally friendly and sustainable compared to a traditional funeral.

How Much Better is a Green Funeral for the Environment?

Studies have shown that green funerals reduce the carbon footprint by 30kg of carbon dioxide per burial. To put that into perspective, that’s the equivalent of leaving a lightbulb on for 96 days, leaving a TV on for 7.5 days or driving a car for 1.17 hours. While carbon dioxide emissions are an important consideration, there are actually a number of other reasons that make green funerals significantly more beneficial for the environment:

  • No toxic embalming chemicals like formaldehyde are used. Formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen, and it’s estimated that over 4,000,000 litres of the toxic chemical is put into the ground in the US every year
  • Over 4 million acres of forest is required for the wood to build coffins and caskets annually
  • Once the body has been buried in a cemetery, the cemetery itself needs to be maintained, requiring millions of tons and litres of water, chemical fertilisers and pesticides in perpetuity

Is Cremation Bad for the Environment?

Considering the environmental impacts of a traditional funeral listed above, you might think that cremation is a more environmentally friendly option. However, the cremation process, which involves burning a body at temperatures between 760 – 1,150 degrees Celcius for 75 minutes, uses an incredible amount of energy. That’s roughly the equivalent of all the energy needs of a single person for an entire month. A study in the UK has estimated that cremation is also responsible for approximately 16% of the mercury pollution in the air.

Green Coffins and Caskets

In order to be buried in a green cemetery or natural burial site, you’ll be required to use a green coffin. A green coffin is a coffin that is made from natural (often recycled) materials that are safely biodegradable, and built in a way that is non-toxic and sustainable to the environment.

Whereas traditional coffins may take decades to decompose, with metal parts and fittings and veneers which seep into the soil, green coffins are designed to decompose much faster and without an impact to the surrounding area.

Types of Green Coffins

There are many different types of green coffins which can be made from a range of materials, including:

  • Wicker
  • Cardboard
  • Rattan
  • Seagrass
  • Willow
  • Raw teak
  • Bamboo
  • Cotton, linen or wool

Green Coffins displayed by business owner

Burial Shrouds in Australia

Most natural burial sites will allow the use of burial shrouds rather than coffins. However, the use of shrouds in traditional cemeteries differs from state to state, and may be dependent on your religion. For example, Muslims are granted an exception in most states for burial in a shroud without a coffin.

If you would like to be buried in a shroud, you should consult your funeral director.

Mushroom Suit

Not yet available in Australia, this product created in the US last year when it went on sale. Yes, it was none other than the famous flesh-eating mushroom death suit. On sale for US$999, the product is designed to grow mushrooms that will naturally decompose your body while removing any environmental contaminants in your system, such as heavy metals and preservatives.

While we don’t think it’s likely to become mainstream in Australia any time soon, it has helped to spark more important conversations about green funeral options.

Green Headstones and Natural Grave Markers

Graves at natural burial sites are sometimes unmarked (with only satellite coordinates to guide families) or marked with a green headstones. A green headstone is different from a traditional headstone as it’s an unprocessed, naturally occurring element – such as a rock, stone, tree, or flower. They are unobtrusive and blend into the environment, although rocks and stones can sometimes be engraved.

Natural Grave Marker
A grave in a natural burial site marked with a green headstone

Green Funeral Costs

The cost of a green funeral sits in between the cost of a typical cremation and the cost of a traditional burial. Generally speaking, a green funeral requires all of the same components as a traditional burial except the grave plot is cheaper, there’s no requirement for grave liner or burial vault, and you don’t need a headstone. If you opt for a burial shroud, you can also save on the cost of a coffin. Together, these items can easily add up to thousands of dollars in savings.

For more information on funeral costs generally, see our Guide to Understanding Funeral Costs in Australia.

Green Funeral Directors Australia

Many funeral directors in Australia will be able to offer your green funeral services and products. The easiest way to find a funeral director is by using our website which lets you instantly compare funeral director prices and reviews.

There are a number of funeral directors around Australia who specialise in green funerals, including:

Green Funeral Directors, NSW

Natural Green Funerals Website

Green Funeral Directors, VIC

Natural Grace Website
Greenhaven Funeral Services Website
Melbourne Green Funerals Website

Green Funeral Directors, QLD

A Gentle Touch Funerals Website
Swanborough Funerals Website
Newhaven Funerals Website

Green Funeral Directors, SA

The Natural Funeral Company Website
Sensible Funerals Website

Green Funeral Directors, WA

Green Endings Website
Greenfields Funerals Website

Green Cemeteries and Natural Burial Grounds

The first natural burial ground in Australia opened in 2008 at Lismore, and since then they have continued to grow in number around the country.

Natural Burial Sites, NSW

Natural Burial Sites, VIC

Natural Burial Sites, QLD

Natural Burial Sites SA

Natural Burial Sites, WA

Natural Burial Sites, ACT

Natural Burial Sites, Tasmania

Other Tips for a Green Funeral

Finally, there are a number of other things you might consider to build into your green funeral to further reduce the impact to the environment:

  • Instead of flowers, ask friends and family for donations to an environmental charity of your choice
  • Use recycled paper for orders of service
  • Opt for a shroud instead of a coffin
  • Care for the deceased at home rather than in a mortuary storage facility
  • If some type of preservation is required, consider formaldehyde-free alternatives approved by the Green Burial Council

Offering a more natural (and less commercialised) farewell, at a cheaper price, in a way that has less impact on the environment and leaves a positive legacy, it’s not hard to see why green funerals are continuing to grow in popularity around Australia. Would you consider a green funeral? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.


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