A guide to green funerals

We are all encouraged to have a light carbon footprint, recycle, reduce our plastic use and be more environmentally friendly.

It is only natural then that having gone to such trouble in life, that we are starting to think about these things in death. In many respects green funerals represent a final frontier in the move towards embracing all things environmentally friendly.


woodland burial ground

1. Deciding whether to opt for burial or cremation is a good place to start

Although cremation was promoted after the war as being environmentally preferable to burial, modern thinking is challenging this. As well as the use of gas, a natural resource, carbon dioxide is produced and harmful pollutants are released into the atmosphere. Natural decomposition after burial is certainly less harmful to the environment – especially in natural burial grounds. Many people find great comfort from knowing their loved ones are in a peaceful, natural setting where wildlife abounds and where the cycle of life is encouraged to take its course.

2. Do you need a coffin?

There is no legal requirement to use a coffin for burial, although most crematoria will insist on one as will some cemeteries and burial grounds. If you choose, you can simply wrap the body in a sheet or blanket, or there are purpose-made shrouds available made from natural felt or woven from wool.

3. If you do opt for a coffin as the focal point of the ceremony, the choice is of the utmost importance

Research from the Natural Death Centre indicates that up to 89% of coffins used each year – around 600,000 – are made from chipboard covered with laminate. Although biodegradable, when used for cremations they can give off harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Environmentally friendly alternatives include coffins made from materials including wicker, bamboo, willow, cardboard and even woven leaves.

Cardboard coffins or those made from compacted recycled paper are available in a host of different colours and designs and can be personalised by families – a process which can help with the grieving process. Strong, biodegradable and suitable for burials and cremations, they’re becoming increasingly popular.

4. Consider alternative resting places for cremated remains

If you’re looking to somewhere to bury or inter the ashes of a loved one, then woodland burials offer a range of options – from meadows where saplings are planted to mark graves through to burials in mature woodland such as Colney Woodland Burial Park in Norwich. After consultation with the “Green Team” at Wymondham High School, we have developed a wide choice of environmentally friendly urns available made from wicker, papier-mâché, and salt and sand dissolvable sea urns. You can consider scattering ashes in local beauty spots, burying them at sea, or even placing them under an environmentally friendly memorial in your garden at home.

5. Be creative with floral tributes

Many families opt for charitable donations in lieu of flowers, limiting floral tributes to close family members only. Avoid flowers wrapped in cellophane, arranged in oasis or tied with plastic ribbon, and opt for natural materials instead, such as a raffia tie or woven baskets. You can make your own flower tributes. We have campaigned to reduce the use of plastic in floral tributes and we can advise you on florists who will be happy to arrange plastic free tributes from seasonal flowers and even incorporate foliage that you supply from your own gardens.

6. Consider memorial options carefully

Many memorial stones are made from stone that’s imported from as far away as India and China. Bierton & Woods in Scole are a local stonemason that we work closely with and they can advise on stone that has been sourced locally. For burials taking place at natural burial sites or on private land, you may wish to consider wooden memorials and we can put you in touch with woodcarvers who will work with you to commission a unique memorial to mark the final resting place.

bicycle hearse

7. Minimise the amount of fuel needed

Try to choose a location for the ceremony as close to home as possible to cut down on fuel emissions. For a really local funeral, we can process the coffin by foot on a wheeled bier or on our bicycle hearse. Also bear in mind the miles involved in visiting the burial site afterwards.



8. Ask for the grave to be prepared by hand

If you want a funeral that is as green as possible, we are happy to oblige by preparing the grave by hand, without the aid of a mechanical digger.

9. Make a carbon offset from your estate

Over the course of a life time, most of us have developed a pretty large carbon footprint. It would be a great legacy to make a contribution to a tree planting scheme, such as the Woodland Trust, offsetting all your carbon emissions.

10. Plan your funeral in advance.

While planning your funeral may not be at the top of your list of priorities, it can save an awful lot of distress if you share your thoughts with someone close to you. Funerals are often organised quickly by people who can feel under pressure and it’s easy for those left behind to make conventional choices that you may not have made. By making your plans known now, you can reflect your environmental values in your wishes, so when the time comes loved ones will find comfort in doing what they know you wanted. In the meantime, you can enjoy living a greener life, safe in the knowledge that your environmentally aware ethics won’t be abandoned.