Traditional American funerals rituals have three parts, the visitation, funeral, and the burial service. During the visitation, the embalmed, deceased body is placed in a casket and put on display, usually in a viewing room at the funeral home. Next is the funeral, which is a memorial service usually officiated by clergy from the decedent's church or religion. The final step is the burial service, traditionally conducted at the side of the grave, tomb, mausoleum or crematorium. At the close of the burial service the decedent is buried or cremated.
Traditional ground burial involves placing a casket into a grave, usually dug in a cemetery. Most cemeteries set a container, or cement vault in to the earth to hold the casket. The toll both funerals and cremations take on the environment each year is shocking, including the use of 30 million board feet of casket wood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. But there is another option. Green burial is an increasingly used alternative that is simple and natural. Green burial involves the interment of bodies in bio-degradable caskets, shrouds, or a personal cloth. There is no embalming and no concrete vaults.
The first "green cemetery," Ramsey Creek Preserve, was opened in the United States in 1998. Ramsey Creek was opened by Memorial Ecosystems Inc., which is a company focused on the development of multi-functional memorial nature preserves that protect and restore land and provide a less expensive and more meaningful burial option. Ramsey Creek Preserve was the Green Burial Council's first Certified Conservation Burial Ground in the U.S. The Preserve is protected by a protection agreement crafted to ensure that the Preserve will be conserved and "forever wild."
The Green Burial Council has three types of certifications for cemeteries to be considered a green burial site (the standards for each are set forth in this table). The lowest level is certification for traditional cemeteries that offer the option for burial without the need for a vault or embalming and they must allow the use of eco-friendly burial containers including shrouds. The other two certifications must prohibit the use of vaults and embalming and must ban the use of burial containers that are not made from natural or plant derived materials. The last certification additionally requires environmental conservation.
Passages is a producer of eco-friendly burial containers. They sell eco-friendly caskets and water and earth biodegradable urns. The website makes clear that every person has different standards for what they feel is a natural or green funeral and that the company seeks to provide options for all the varying needs. Eco-friendly caskets are marketed to be used for traditional or green burials. Passages says that each casket is suitable for viewing and services, followed by burial or cremation. The eco-friendly nature of using a green burial container and then placing it in a vault or crematorium, is quite antithetical to the notion of environmentally friendly burial.
Green burial is a valid alternative to traditional American burial, that provides people with a cheaper, environmentally friendly option. The Green Burial Council has approved more than 340 green burial providers (both funeral homes, cemeteries, and product providers) in the U.S. and Canada. The Green Burial Council website provides a list of approved providers.