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? So 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.

In short, 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.

Top green burial myths #1

  • You can’t use a simple pine box coffin. Not true. Naturally, for Piedmont Pine Coffins, this fact comes first on any list of green burial myths 🙂 . In truth, you can go into the ground in a simple pine box coffin, or in a 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. You can build your own coffin, and here are free DIY plans to show you how. You work out all these details with your funeral director and with your local cemetery. If you have an idea, pitch it to them — ahead of time, of course. It’s best to arrange things without the pressure of a corpse weighing down the discussion.

The best of the rest

  • You have to use a funeral home. Not true. In reality, 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 over time. 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.
  • Embalming is mandatory. Not true. In fact, you can just “chill” 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.)

Greenbacks and green burial myths

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.

Top 3 tips about choosing a cemetery, green or not

The short video below shares the top 3 tips you need to know when choosing a cemetery. Fill in the form that follows if you’d like me to connect you with a green cemetery in your area of the country. Put just your first name. I won’t use your details for anything other than putting you in touch with the closest green cemetery.