This Memorial Day, Americans will flock to cemeteries to honor fallen service members and other loved ones. However, cemeteries are also the site of mass pollution, with almost a million gallons of embalming fluid and enough steel to build the Golden Gate Bridge interred each year.
A small but growing segment of the population is rebelling against these practices. As part of the larger green movement, more people are practicing green burials. These burials focus on minimizing the ecological impact of death by using eco-friendly materials and by incorporating burial sites in natural settings.
Green burials can be done in coffins of untreated wood, wicker and bamboo, or by simply wrapping the deceased in a shroud of linen or silk. All of these materials will break down and replenish soil. Artificial embalming is discouraged, as are non-degradable building materials, such as the steel and concrete often used in traditional burials.
Burial sites can include forests and other natural areas, as the remains cause less disturbance to ecosystems. Land preservation is a serious challenge for environmentalists, and this is one way to combat overdevelopment.
After spending your life biking to work, compulsively recycling and buying local food, why spend money on tons of concrete and embalming fluids that hurt your local environment? Fortunately, it is also cheaper to be buried in a green fashion (though it is, however, difficult to say by how much, as funeral costs vary widely).
It may seem strange, but one-fifth of AARP members in a 2007 poll said that a more eco-friendly burial appealed to them. The rise in green burials is paired with a growth in people choosing cremation, a similarly less harmful burial alternative.
As America's funereal environmental ethic continues to turn green, more people are saying, "Polluting? Not over my dead body."