Q. How is a grave liner different from a vault?A.
A grave liner covers the sides and top of the casket where a vault is significantly more substantial, acting as a box for the box. Both are classified as outer burial containers. Neither is required by law, though cemeteries often require them to avoid grave subsidence. Neither is permitted in a green burial cemetery of any kind, as they both impede natural decomposition and introduce non-biodegradable materials into the earth. Q. What about inverting the outer container?A.
Called ‘butterdishing’, this method may allow the body to be closer to the earth on the bottom surface, but still impedes and puts non-biodegradable artifacts in the ground. It is not an acceptable alternative to going without.Q. Since burial vaults are made from concrete, shouldn’t they be considered green?A. While the concrete and metal in vaults may be considered "natural" to some, the manufacturing and transporting of vaults uses a tremendous amount of energy and causes significant carbon emission. In the US, vault manufacturing requires the production of 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete annually. No state or province legally requires vault purchase to implementation—individual cemeteries determine their own vault requirements.Q. What is required for a shroud burial? And are burial garments required?A.
A shroud burial is usually just that — a body wrapped in a biodegradable shroud lowered into a grave. While burial garments may be used, often by followers of certain religious customs, they are neither required or discouraged as a matter of course. Some shroud burials also include a casket for ease of processionals and lowering, but the main determining factor is the cemetery’s own policy and guidelines, usually written into their bylaws.
Q. How does a shrouded body get carried to the grave?A.
Many cemeteries have a vehicle for moving shrouded and casketed bodies, including retrofitted golf carts, wagons, trailers, or other wheeled conveyances. Some families choose to conduct a processional with pall bearers, either on shoulder for a casket or with carrying handles on a shrouding board for shroud burials. (See Opening, Closing and Maintenance of a Green Burial Grave
) Q. How and who lowers the body?A.
This depends on how the individual cemetery chooses to handle family participation and what mechanical devices are available. Some cemeteries continue to use excavators for digging and hydraulic machinery for lowering, while others pay employees to hand dig graves and allow the family, with direction if necessary, to lower the body themselves using shrouding boards, straps, or ropes. Sometimes family members wish to dig the grave themselves. Green burial operators should expect more family participation and be prepared with appropriate equipment—and liability waiver agreements built into their contract for services. (See Opening, Closing and Maintenance of a Green Burial Grave) Q. What protects the cemetery from liability claims for injuries incurred during carrying, digging, lowering, and closing the grave?A.
It is wise to require the next-of-kin to sign a liability waiver that indemnifies the cemetery and all of its employees from responsibility for injuries of anyone in their party during the funeral. This can be simple language included in the contract or a stand-alone agreement that is witnessed if possible. It is good practice to provide written instructions and warnings in a guidebook designed to educate the family about cemetery rules and best practices when purchasing the plot and/or arranging the burial. (Coming soon Sample Guidebook for Hybrid Cemetery Operators
) Q. How deep does one place the body?A.
Burial depth differs by state. For a comprehensive list by state of this and other requirements, go to Legal Requirements by State
. As a general rule, the ideal burial depth for optimal decomposition conditions is 3.5 – 4 feet from the bottom of the grave to the soil horizon, which also guarantees an 18-24 inch smell barrier that prevents animals, two and four legged both, from being able to smell anything. By adding the displaced soil to the top of the grave in a mound, that depth is doubled until it gradually settles. Q. What if the body is in bad condition?A.
Included in the contract and/or guidebook should be explicit guidelines for the condition of the body when presented for burial, with the clear understanding that they will be turned away if those conditions are not met. Many families hire funeral directors for body preparation so it would be the professional’s job to repair any damage or rectify any issues. If the family is in charge, bodies will most likely be coming for burial in a short enough period of time that these scenarios are unlikely, but if there were a problem, it would be their responsibility to address it by whatever means necessary. (Coming soon Sample Guidebook)Q. Does the GBC recommend removing pacemakers, plates, screws, joint replacement hardware, gold or amalgam fillings or even metal zippers or buttons prior to burial?A.
The GBC leaves it to individual cemeteries to determine what is required. However, we do advise that consideration be given to the invasive nature of removing any of these items from a body and balancing that with the potential for environmental damage. Q. Won’t wild animals dig up corpses?A.
No. Burials occur 3.5 feet under the ground with, at minimum, an 18-inch smell barrier. Animals are much more interested in living prey above ground than in working that hard. We’re just not that delicious. (See Real Answers to Questions Real People Ask
) Q. Won’t we be able to smell them?A.
No. Same principles apply. And remember this from 5thgrade science? Humans have a dismal sense of smell compared to animals. If they can’t detect bodies by scent, we surely won’t be able to either. Wild boar are the most deep-digging of all wildlife and they typically max out at 12 inches. They are usually more interested in investigating the freshly turned soil and marking their territory. (See Real Answers to Questions Real People Ask) Q. Do green burials contaminate the water table or drinking water?A.
No. With burials at 3.5 feet deep, there is no danger of contaminating potable water that is found about 75 feet below the surface. Mandatory setbacks from known water sources also ensure that surface water is not at risk. (See The Science Behind Green Burial) Q. Do unembalmed bodies pollute the ground with chemo or other drugs?A.
Soil is the best natural filter there is, binding organic compounds and making them unable to travel. Microorganisms in the soil break down any chemical compounds that remain in the body. We lose more toxic chemicals during a day of living than a whole body will decomposing. A 2018 Recompose study done by the University of Washington found that chemicals, heavy metals, and other potential biochemical concerns met or exceeded EPA levels by a significant margin. Additionally, embalming does not remove toxins from anywhere in the body except the fluids that are removed during the process. Q. How long does it take for a body to completely decompose?A.
Depending on soil type, oxygen availability, and moisture present, it takes on average 6 weeks to lose the majority of soft tissue through moisture absorption by the soil, and up to 2 years for complete decomposition. It may take up to twenty years for bones to absorb in moist soils. (See The Science Behind Green Burial)