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Birds do it. Bees do it. And unless someone discovers a method of prevention, you're going to do it, too -- die, that is. Death is big business. Our conventional, Western-centric idea of a traditional burial usually means funeral directors, embalming, caskets, cemetery plots, vaults, headstones, flowers or maybe even being shot into space. In the United States, the funeral home industry generates about $11 billion in annual revenue and is growing [source: CNN]. But it hasn't always been so complicated.
What we now think of as traditional burial didn't become the tradition until the Civil War when bodies were embalmed for preservation while transported home. Embalming gives the dead a lifelike appearance -- a sort of morbid Madame Tussauds look -- and that appearance remains de rigueur in today's funeral industry. Before the Civil War, burial often took place in simple graves in tall grasses. That simplicity is beginning to make a comeback. In a poll by AARP, more than 70 percent of those asked chose green burial as the most appealing burial option [source: Green Burials].
But what is a green burial? Green burials, also called natural burials, are thought to have started in the late 1980s in the United Kingdom as a backlash against crowding limited land resources with cemeteries. While definitions of what makes a burial green vary, the idea is to eschew unnatural practices -- no formaldehyde-based embalming, metal caskets or concrete burial vaults. You may be thinking this sounds a bit hippie; after all, if you're dead, what difference does it make if your death care is green? Think of your legacy -- every year 22,500 cemeteries in the United States bury:
- 827,060 gallons (3,130,762 liters) of embalming fluid
- 90,272 tons (81,893 metric tons) of steel in caskets
- 1,636,000 tons (1,484,154 metric tons) of reinforced concrete in vaults
- More than 30 million board feet (70,792 meters3) of hardwoods (some tropical woods) for caskets
[source: Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve].
We'll take a look at traditional funeral practices, green burials and some unconventional alternatives.