Biodegradable Caskets: Composting your relatives?

Green goes under ground, six feet under and currently being spear-headed in Oregon by and environmentally-friendly funeral products dealer by the name of Cynthia Beal. She is the founder of The Natural Burial Co. in Portland, Oregon, the healthy way to recycle yourself and your casket upon taking the inevitable dirt nap. Cynthia herself wishes to become an Oregon cherry tree when she dies, and she has found a way to make that happen — her body, a burial, and her own biodegradable coffin.
These biodegradable coffins are the focal point of an eerie and surprising green business; perhaps Beal described it properly when she said “it is composting at its best.” Her shop officially opens in January, and kissing the storefront window is a United Kingdom sourced Ecopod, a biodegradable coffin constructed out of recycled newspapers. These kayak-shaped coffins are the focal point of the up and coming “natural burials,” which are formaldehyde-free, and buck the usual cement vaults, laminated caskets or chemical lawn treatments. The result, burials that are not harmful to the environment.

What of cremation? It was considered far more eco-friendly than burials in graveyards but the wide-spread use of fossil fuels to take a body from ash to urn has raised eyebrows recently. These all-natural burials have been popular in Europe for years but until recently it has been a dead issue in the U.S. Within the past few years “green cemeteries” have sprouted up in California, Texas and New York, just to name a few. Currently, the options on these healthy coffins range from fair-trade bamboo to natural-fiber shrouds to caskets lined with unbleached cotton.
The market is a big one, with death being as certain as taxes and a plump population of baby boomers the demand is sure to rise and profits are sure to follow. U.S. funeral homes currently generate an estimated $11 billion in revenue annually and poised to blossom in the upcoming decades.
The biodegradable coffins range in costs from $100 for a cardboard box up to more than $3000 for a spruced up “green” body box. Though some critics, such as Bob Fells, of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, said that, “it’s hard to tell if it’s a fad or if it’s here to stay.” Further more there is actually a Green Burial Council which is working on certification programs to verify the quality and commitment of providers who are on the path to going natural. “What we are trying to do is make sure this concept doesn’t get ‘green-washed’ down the drain,” said Joe Sehee, the council’s founder and executive director.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

10 responses

  1. Excellent article, now this concept makes complete sense!! I always look forward to reading articles from this writer whom seems to know what topics are worth talking about.

  2. Eco-burial is a neat idea– but it’s something Jewish folks have been doing for a very long time. The religion mandates that they be buried within 24 hours of death (with some exceptions for holidays), and thus no formaldehyde preservation. They’re also buried in a plain pine box with pre-drilled holes, to give a helping hand to the bugs & insects. Granted, the topside of Jewish cemeteries isn’t necessarily envirofriendly (standard fertilized lawn care, etc)… but it’s pretty interesting nonetheless.

  3. Natural Burial Around the World
    The modern concept of natural burial began in the UK in 1993 and has since spread across the globe. According the Centre for Natural Burial, there are now several hundred natural burial grounds in the United Kingdom and half a dozen sites across the USA, with others planned in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and even China.
    A natural burial allows you to use your funeral as a conservation tool to create, restore and protect urban green spaces.
    The Centre for Natural Burial provides comprehensive resources supporting the development of natural burial and detailed information about natural burial sites around the world. With the Natural Burial Co-operative newsletter you can stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the rapidly growing trend of natural burial including, announcements of new and proposed natural burial sites, book reviews, interviews, stories and feature articles.
    The Centre for Natural Burial

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