It’s illegal, plus other green burial myths

Green Burial Myths

Are we legal?

Interested in a simple pine box coffin? It’s illegal, goes one of the top green burial myths. Who wants to be a scofflaw for all eternity? We better look into this and find out.

For those readers just joining in, we are Piedmont Pine Coffins. At our cottage industrial home, the off-grid Melleray Farmstead in central NC, we make simple pine box coffins (with hand tools only — no electricity) and we help families reclaim the sacred power of caring for our own dead.

We are advocates for the green burial ethos. To my mind, the perfect green burial would include a home funeral, a trip to the cemetery on a horse-drawn hearse cart, and interment in a simple pine box. But would I be breaking the law? You can’t do this kind of stuff in 2014, right? After all, this isn’t the Wild West anymore.

Whenever we take our message to the streets, like at May’s Milo Holt Western Film Festival in Siler City, NC, I often hear questions like that. What’s the real story?

Top green burial myths

  •  You can’t be buried in a simple pine box coffin. Not true. You can be buried in a simple pine box coffin, or in a simple shroud, or on a trundle (a flat board coffin with no lid), or only in your street clothes, if you wish. One man was buried on his Harley. All these details are worked out with your funeral director and with your local cemetery. If you have an idea, pitch it to them — ahead of time, of course. Things are best arranged without the pressure of a corpse weighing down the discussion.
  • You have to use a funeral home. Not true. You can act as your own funeral director (at least here in NC — check your state). And you can prepare a body and have services in your own home. The National Home Funeral Alliance can show you how — and show you how to save money in the process, too.
  • The law requires a concrete burial vault. Not true. A local cemetery might, as part of their conditions of service, but for them it’s all about maintaining a flat surface for mowing (and about making a profit, as vaults can add thousands to the cost of a funeral). In cemeteries without vaults, the ground sinks in as the coffin inevitably collapses. It’s hard to maintain putting-green perpetual care if a graveyard is crisscrossed with coffin ruts. So if you don’t want to buy a burial vault, look into your local church cemetery or look up one of our nation’s burgeoning number of green cemeteries, where vaults are often expressly forbidden.
  • You have to be embalmed. Not true. You can be chilled instead. A funeral director can do this for you in a big walk-in cooler, or, for a home funeral, you can use dry ice to chill the body. (It is true, however, that a funeral home may insist on embalming, as a way of protecting their reputation, if a family chooses open-casket viewing.)

One common feature of all these green burial myths is that they can end up saving you some greenbacks. In other words, your family can save money. It turns out that the traditional ways of death care were cheaper: conducted by family, held in the home, a simple coffin, a simple grave. And not only that, but also this: The old-fashioned dignity of these methods approach, to my reckoning, death care elegance. What a tasteful tribute for a loved one!

You can find out much more at this collection of green burial resources, or at this one.