During a green burial, the deceased is returned to the earth without the use of non-biodegradable toxins or materials, including embalming fluid and metal caskets. The Green Burial Council requires certified cemeteries to participate in conservation activities, restoration and environmental stewardship.
Pros and Cons of Modern Embalming
As with most things in life, there are debatable pros and cons of modern embalming. Common benefits of embalming include allowing time to arrange for the funeral, providing time to arrange for transport of the body and restoring appearance.
Jeff Seiple, embalming instructor at Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service, explains further when he says, "There are three main purposes for embalming -- disinfection, preservation and restoration. Disinfecting the body removes the threat of exposing the general public to bacteria, had the individual passed away from a contagious disease.
"Furthermore, especially in instances of vehicular accidents and chronic disease, embalming is important to the family members. It restores the individual to an acceptable condition and helps provide the family with what is called, a 'positive memory picture.'"
Seiple is describing the family members' final viewing of the individual. A positive experience facilitates the grieving process [source: Seiple].
Those not in favor of embalming generally come from two different groups -- those that refrain from embalming for religious reasons and those with environmental concerns. Orthodox Jews and Muslims don't practice embalming, and Hindus and Buddhists rely on cremation.
Environmentally, the concern of embalming is mainly associated with the use of formaldehyde, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency lists as a probable carcinogen. This is a potential concern for embalmers and requires special training and protective equipment.
The main concern that proponents of other funeral preparation options have is placing formaldehyde in the ground. In fact, each year, in the United States, enough embalming fluid is put in the earth to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools [source: Sehee]. However, cemeteries are dedicated parcels of land that are generally owned by municipalities or privately held. Moreover, they adhere to strict city, county and/or state regulations [source: Seiple].
Despite the current debate on embalming, there is consensus on one key point, though: When it comes to decisions related to the final resting of family members, families today -- just as in the past -- should know all their options and have the needed time to decide what works best for the deceased and for them and their grieving processes.
For more on embalming and other related subjects, take a look at the links on the next page.