The 6 Most Common Misconceptions About Green Burial Cemeteries

28 May 2015
 Categories: , Articles


With a well-developed industry built around embalming and expensive caskets, it's no wonder that there are a number of myths being spread around to discourage people from choosing a green burial alternative. Understanding the facts about this emerging new option for post-mortem care is crucial before you make a decision between green and conventional burial methods. Discover the truth behind these misconceptions to get a bigger picture of what's available for you and your family.

Green Cemeteries are Unprotected

Many families worry that the land their loved one is buried on will turn into a shopping center or housing complex after the fad of green burial dies down. However, every state prevents commercial or residential repurposing of land that holds corpses in any stage of decomposition. Since green burial plots don't usually include vaults and caskets that make it easier to retrieve remains decades later, green cemeteries are even less likely to end up seized by local governments for a road or park building project. Most plots are also designated as nature preserves to help protect them from unintended changes later.

Nearby Waters are Affected

A lot of things threaten the health of ground water under the cemetery and streams running by the edges, including landscaping and embalming chemicals. However, the decomposition of a non-embalmed body is not one of those things. The bacteria that handle decomposition don't stray far from their host and die quickly when separated from it, protecting the water around the green cemetery.

Standard Caskets Resist Leaking

The idea of contamination from green burial is tied to the idea that caskets and vaults used for conventional burial are leak-proof. All burial equipment, including metal and concrete pieces, eventually breaks down due to contact with the soil. There are no leak-proof options for any type of burial. Vaults come equipped with drains from day one to prevent rain water from filling up the casket and affecting decomposition.

Animals Dig Up Graves

Most people also believe that caskets and vaults are necessary to protect the recently buried from scavenging animals like raccoons and bears. It might seem counter-intuitive, but extensive real grave site testing shows that even hungry animals simply don't disturb graves. Wooded and non-maintained cemeteries are not any more likely to attract unwanted animal behavior than other types of burial areas.

Vaults are Mandatory

Since many natural and green cemeteries still require the use of burial vaults made from metal or concrete, some people take that fact to mean vaults are always necessary. These structures are primarily used for aesthetic reasons and not for protecting the body or grave in any particular way. Vaults prevent the grave site from developing a sunken look and make it easier to find the edges of each plot after a few years go by.

If you're set against the idea of using any kind of structure during burial, you'll need to find a vault-free cemetery. Many of the newest developments offer bare options in which the person being interred is only covered with a cloth shroud or even nothing at all.

Embalming is Never Required

In nearly all states, family members are allowed to keep a body at home and care for it themselves for a certain amount of time. However, there are a few conditions that trigger an automatic requirement for formal embalming in a handful of states. These conditions include:

  • Death by infectious disease
  • Suspicious circumstances or potential crimes related to the death
  • The need to transport the body across state lines for a funeral or burial
  • Over 24 hours passing between the time of death and interment

Funeral directors and hospital staff may tell you that embalming is required when your state laws say differently. Check with an estate planning lawyer, green burial advocate, or a national group for natural burial information to find out specific state requirements before making your choice. Should you choose the traditional route, look at sites like