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People who choose green burials don’t use concrete vaults, traditional coffins with metalwork or any embalming chemicals. Instead, the body is wrapped in biodegradable shrouds or placed in a pine coffin and laid to rest where it can decompose and become part of the earth.
Other options are available for green caskets, often called ecoffins. These coffins can be made of bamboo, pine, woven willow, recycled cardboard and even cord from dried banana plants. They range in cost from $500 to $1,000, depending on the material.
It is estimated that more than 60,000 tons of steel and 4.8 million gallons of embalming fluid are buried each year. That is enough steel to build eight Eiffel Towers and fill eight Olympic size swimming pools, according to Mary Woodsen, a science researcher and writer for Cornell University and research director for the GBC.
At a half-dozen fully certified “conservation cemeteries” around the country, the GBC performs ecological surveys of the grounds and sets rules that include hand-digging the grave site, markers, replacement of the same soil removed and no vault or cement grave liners. Only biodegradable material is allowed to be buried with the body.
“Even the grave sites themselves have no conventional memorial stones,” said Johnson. “What you see is nature.”
Green burials can be less expensive than conventional funerals, where costs can run between $6,000 and $10,000, because they do not incur the costs of embalming and metal caskets.
But a green burial is still a more expensive option than cremation, which remains the fastest-growing funeral preference. In 2011, cremation was chosen instead of burial in 42 percent of U.S. deaths, up from 30 percent in 2003, according to the Cremation Association of North America. It predicts the cremation rate will jump to nearly 56 percent by 2025.