12 Ways to a greener funeral

by Sophie Williams

Published on 3 September 2020

Greener funeral - field of daisies image

For the more environmentally friendly, a greener funeral approach can be a way to give back once you're gone.  

In this guide we have considered the greener funeral alternatives compared to some more traditional elements in a funeral service.

Who is this guide for? 

  • Those 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 to getting your greener funeral

We do our bit for the environment in lots of ways throughout our lives. We may be keen recyclers, energy savers, 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! So compare and see which greener option best suites you, or just take inspiration for yourself. . 

1. Natural burial

You can choose from the UK’s 270 natural woodland or meadow burial grounds to be your final resting place. Which will not only preserve a piece of land from being developed on, but it will also maintain the habitat for local wildlife.

Usually burial sites belonging to the Association of Natural Burial Grounds abide by a code of conduct. The purpose being to ensure the highest professional and environmental standards are kept at all times.

Also, any projects carried out by grounds members must adhere to sound ecological and sustainable principles. For example, conserving the existing wildlife and promoting biodiversity.

Woodland burial ground in Cardiff

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. So long as it will breakdown over time. 
  • Some natural burial grounds allow families to dig their loved one’s grave. Although the burial ground may insist the family takes out an insurance policy, 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. However, the meadow can look very different for the rest of the year.

2. A greener funeral - cremation

One of the ECO-friendly reasons people tend choose cremation over a burial is the fact that it doesn’t use finite land resources. Further efforts have been made by crematoria to reduce the harm funerals have on the environment as seen below. 

Firstly, some crematoria have installed abatement equipment to reduce harmful NOx emissions. Where as others have given consideration to the planting and maintenance of the grounds, and the installation of electric charging ports.

Additional schemes include recycling large floral tributes instead of sending them to a landfill. Also, Redditch crematorium in Worcestershire thought outside of the box by diverting the heat it produces to a local swimming pool.

Besides the efforts being made choosing a crematorium that uses an all-electric, carbon-neutral cremator running off a green energy supply would be the simple option. Unfortunately there is currently only one electric cremator in the UK. And it doesn’t run off a green tariff.

Furthermore, the crematorium is based in Dundee, and is the first all-electric, carbon neutral crematorium due to open in Cambridgeshire. Opening towards the end of 2021.

If you are considering being 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

A naturally sourced, sustainable and 100% biodegradable coffin can come in a variety of materials and colours. Some being wood, cardboard, wool and wicker made from willow, seagrass, banana leaf, pandanus and bamboo.

Additionally, the linings and pillows are made from organic cotton or jute and can be ordered in different colours. Also, natural coffins have minimal impact on the environment and will breakdown much quicker than traditional coffins supplied by funeral directors.

Willow coffin

Although, all the natural coffins are suitable for burial, care should be taken when choosing a coffin for a cremation funeral.

 As certain types of natural coffins are not as environmentally friendly as you might think and require more heat to burn. For example, some cardboard coffins and wicker coffins burn hotter than a natural solid pine wood coffin. 

4. Greener funeral shroud options

The standard alternative to a coffin is a highly sustainable, 100% biodegradable shroud.

Also, coming in a variety of materials such as felted wool, hemp, linen, unbleached organic cotton or fabric made from strips of bamboo. Choosing the shroud with or without carrying handles which can be used with a curved or flat wicker stretcher.

A further alternative would be to make your own eco-coffin from scratch or from a flatpack. You can then decorate it with biodegradable inks and paints for a personal touch.

5. Biodegradable urns

You could ask that your ashes are placed in a biodegradable urn or ash casket. With the choices of material for a permanent above the ground or underground home being. Wood, wicker, wool, fibre and urns made from paper.

Alternatively, you can ask that your ashes are interred in a recycled wooden box, wine crate, wicker basket, or a robust eco-friendly Jiffy bag. A further option is the BiosUrn a container with tree seed, sapling or flower planted on top, which is nourished by your ashes. And will naturally breakdown over time. 

6. Natural or living memorials

Natural or living memorials are a standard requirement of green burial grounds. As they preserve the environment and the natural appearance of the location.

A few examples accepted by green burial grounds are, A flat stone, a wooden marker that breaks-down over time (which is replaceable), or a tree. However, each burial ground has its own policy regarding what can and cannot be used so be sure to check.

The greener funeral service

If you are passionate about the environment, why not ensure your actual funeral service is more sustainable?

You can carefully consider the individual aspects of the funeral to give that little bit back in the end.  

7. Travel arrangements

Instead of the traditional motor hearse you could consider a horse-drawn carriage or bicycle hearse instead. Additionally, you could ask people to share cars to and from the ceremony to be in line with the ECO friendly theme. 

8. Order of service

A further measure you could take is insisting on recycled paper for the order of service, or having no order of service at all.  Also you can leave instructions for the song or hymn books to be used at the crematorium or place of burial. Which you can then request they are printed on recycled paper or not printed at all. 

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 growers. On the other hand, a florist with a policy that avoids sourcing from heated greenhouses is a viable option. Making sure any packaging will break down over time.

10. Gifts of sympathy

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

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.

Packets of seeds

12. Funeral reception

If your funeral planning extends to the reception following the funeral. You will need to choose a crematorium or burial location with on-site facilities or a venue that is close by so people can walk there. Where you can ask that local organic food is served.

Paying for a green funeral

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 in the process.

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


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

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About the author 

Sophie Williams

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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