12 Ways to a greener funeral

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For the more environmentally conscious, a greener approach can be incorporated into a funeral service with some forward planning. 

This guide considers the eco alternatives to some of the traditional elements in a funeral service.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Anyone wishing to help the environment when it comes to their funeral.
  • Anyone who wants help with some ideas for an eco-friendly funeral service

Reading time:

 4.5 mins


The basics

We do our bit for the environment in lots of ways throughout our lives. We may be keen recyclers, energy savers, allotment holders, carbon neutrals or eco investors. So why should we let a little thing like death stop us from doing our bit for the planet?

You have more green choices than you might think when it comes to pushing up the daisies!

1. Natural burial

You could choose one of the UK’s 270 natural woodland or meadow burial grounds for your final resting place. This not only preserves a piece of land from being developed, but it also secures habitat for local wildlife.

Burial sites that belong to the Association of Natural Burial Grounds abide by a code of conduct aimed at ensuring the highest professional and environmental standards. Any projects members undertake at their grounds must adhere to sound ecological and sustainable principles. This includes conserving existing wildlife and promoting biodiversity.

THREE UNEXPECTED FACTS about natural burial grounds

  • You don’t have to be buried in a coffin or casket. You could choose to be buried in a shroud, or some other alternative wrapping or container – as long as it’s biodegradable.
  • Some natural burial grounds allow families to dig their loved one’s grave. The burial ground may insist the family takes out an insurance policy, e.g. against injury.
  • Families returning to visit their loved one’s grave should brace themselves for a very different feel throughout the seasons.

Some wildflower meadow burial grounds may only be cut once a year. While the setting for the burial may be especially beautiful when the meadow is awash with colour in spring and summertime, the meadow can look very different the rest of the year.

2. A greener cremation

One of the ecological reasons why people choose cremation over a burial is because it doesn’t use up finite land resources. Other reasons can be more granular.

Some crematoria have installed abatement equipment to reduce harmful NOx emissions. Others have given consideration to the planting and maintenance of the grounds, and the installation of electric charging ports. Schemes include recycling large floral tributes rather than sending them to landfill. Redditch crematorium in Worcestershire diverts the heat it produces to a local swimming pool.

Choosing a crematorium that uses an all-electric, carbon-neutral cremator running off a green energy supply would be a good option. Unfortunately, there is only one electric cremator in the UK currently, and doesn’t run off a green tariff. It’s based in Dundee. The first all-electric, carbon neutral crematorium is due to open in Cambridgeshire towards the end of 2021.

If you would prefer to be cremated, get in touch with your local crematorium and ask what it has done to reduce its impact on the environment.

3. Eco-friendly coffin options

Ethically sourced, sustainable and 100% biodegradable coffins come in a variety of materials and colours. These include wood, cardboard, wool and wicker made from willow, seagrass, banana leaf, pandanus and bamboo, to name but a few. Linings and pillows are made from organic cotton or jute and can be ordered in different colours.

Each natural coffin has a minimal impact on the environment and will biodegrade much quicker than traditional coffins supplied by funeral directors.

While all the natural coffins are suitable for burial, care should be taken when choosing a coffin for a cremation funeral. Certain types of natural coffins are not as environmentally friendly as you might think as they require more heat to burn. e.g. some cardboard coffins and wicker coffins. A natural solid pine wood coffin is a good option for a green cremation.

4. Eco-friendly shroud options

The standard alternative to a coffin is a highly sustainable, 100% biodegradable shroud. Again, these come in a variety of materials such as felted wool, hemp, linen, unbleached organic cotton or fabric made from strips of bamboo (it’s soft and looks like cotton). A shroud comes with or without carrying handles and can be used in conjunction with a curved or flat wicker stretcher.

Another alternative is to make your own eco-coffin from scratch or from a flatpack. Decorate with biodegradable inks and paints.

5. Biodegradable urns

You could ask that your ashes are placed in a biodegradable urn or ashes casket. Your choice for a permanent above the ground or under the ground home includes wood, wicker, wool, fibre and urns made from paper. Or how about asking that your ashes are interred in a recycled wooden box, wine crate, wicker basket, or a robust eco-friendly Jiffy bag?

Another option is the BiosUrn - a biodegradable container with tree seed, sapling or flower planted on top, which is nourished by your ashes.

6. Natural or living memorials

Natural or living memorials are a requirement of green burial grounds. They preserve the environment and the natural appearance of the location. A flat stone, a wooden marker that biodegrades over time (it can be replaced) or a tree are wonderful alternatives to the traditional memorial headstone or metal plaque. Each burial ground has its own policy regarding what can and cannot be used.

The funeral service
If you are passionate about the environment, why not ensure your funeral service is more sustainable?  By carefully considering each stage of the funeral, you might be able to come up with small, positive changes that collectively make a big difference.

7. Travel arrangements

Instead of the traditional motor hearse, consider a horse-drawn or bicycle hearse instead. Ask people to share cars to and from the ceremony.

8. Order of service

How about insisting on recycled paper for the Order of Service, or no Order of Service at all. Leave instructions for the song or hymn books to be used at the crematorium or place of burial.

9. Flowers

You can reduce your funeral’s carbon footprint by requesting family and friends pick flowers from their own gardens, or that the flowers come from a local organic grower or a florist with a policy that avoids sourcing from heated greenhouses. They should ensure any packaging is biodegradable too.

10. Gifts of sympathy

To have a lasting and positive effect after you’re gone, consider requesting donations to charity instead of flowers. Alternatively, request that the flowers are all in pots so they can be taken home or donated to a local community garden or care home.

11. Mementoes

Leaving instructions for packets of seeds or ‘seed bombs’ for mourners to take home after the service is an excellent way of promoting green habits.

12. Funeral reception

If your funeral planning extends to the reception following the funeral, choose a crematorium or burial location with on-site facilities or a venue that is cl

Paying for a green funeral

Did you know that you can pay for a greener funeral in advance? If leaving a better world for future generations is something you want to prioritise right now, consider the benefits of a green prepaid funeral plan. You fix the cost of your funeral at today’s prices, help loved ones avoid the rise in funeral costs and help save the planet into the bargain.

You can learn more about green funeral plans and compare them here.

Useful RESOURCES

Eco-friendly coffins Country range from:

JC Atkinson bygc.me/countryrange 

Eco Coffin bygc.me/ecocoffin 

Colourful Coffins bygc.me/colourful 

Flatpack coffin from Coffin In A Box bygc.me/inabox

Biodegradable ‘Ashes into a tree’ urn bygc.me/biosurn

Directory of charities bygc.me/charities

About the Author

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Sophie can usually be found reading a book. Writing a novel has always been on her bucket list. When not absorbed in the latest page-turner, Sophie likes to explore and gain a deeper understanding of peoples' attitudes towards end-of-life planning and how it impacts their lives. She hopes that in some small way her writing around these topics can make a positive difference to her readers.


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