What is Natural Burial?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Many cemeteries around the world offer natural burial to their clients.
Many cemeteries around the world offer natural burial to their clients.

Natural burial is a type of alternative funeral that places a heavy emphasis on environmentally sound practices, simplicity, and returning to the Earth. In many ways, it is similar to a traditional Jewish burial, which involves a simple ceremony and a plain wooden coffin. Numerous cemeteries all over the world offer natural burial as an option to their clients, and some which focus entirely on natural burial have been established.

Natural burial is part of a larger environmental movement, and has its roots in the trend towards simpler funerals which began in the United States after the publication of The American Way of Death in 1963. In Europe, funeral trends had always favored simple ceremonies, with cremation catching on much earlier than it did in the United States. Several eye-opening exposes of the funeral industry led to a desire to reform and return to a simpler way of handling the dead, and natural burial, an option in Europe for decades, began to catch on in the United States as well in the 1990s.

In addition to being much cheaper than a traditional funeral, natural burial is also far more ecologically sound. In a basic natural burial, the decedent is not embalmed, and is buried in a plain coffin or shroud. In some cases, a grave marker may be put up, while in others, the body is buried in a large natural park land, where mourners can wander through well maintained trails with trees and flowers. Sometimes a natural marker such as a stone or tree will be used: in all cases, a GPS marker is buried with the body so that the cemetery can keep track of its residents. Most natural cemeteries focus on having areas of wilderness and parkland for contemplation, rather than regimented rows of graves.

Ecologically, a traditional funeral can be very unsustainable. The chemicals used in embalming are toxic, and will leach out into the water table as the coffin breaks down and the body decays. In addition, conventional coffins are often made out of heavy metals, plastics, and other materials that do not biodegrade easily. The use of heavy concrete or stone vaults further disrupts the natural environment, and also mean that cemeteries take up a large amount of space. In a natural burial, the body is allowed to return to the earth naturally and gently.

Mourners who are not comfortable with cremation often consider natural burial because it offers a gentle, natural, and cost efficient way for honoring the dead. Some families also prefer natural burial because it offers them an opportunity to care for their dead personally, rather than turning them over to a funeral home. In some cases, a cemetery which specializes in natural burial will allow families to dig graves and handle all of the funeral proceedings themselves, although the options of a graveside memorial service and professional interment services are also offered. Individuals interested in natural burial can use their favorite search engine to look for a nearby natural funeral association or cooperative to assist them.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon63633

this really helped me on my homework!

anon23691

I read in the newspaper where a family buried one of their members in their back yard. This occurred in Asheboro, North Carolina. Evidently it was legal for them to do so.

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    • Many cemeteries around the world offer natural burial to their clients.
      Many cemeteries around the world offer natural burial to their clients.