Green Burial Rules and Regulations (+ Common Myths)

Updated January 5, 2019
Mourner at a green burial site

Many people who are contemplating a green, or natural, burial wonder about natural burial laws. Green burial is a set of body preparation, funeral, and burial practices that allow a body to decompose naturally in a site specifically set aside for this type of grave. Body preparation is free of toxic chemicals, caskets are biodegradable, and no cement vault stands between the deceased and the natural environment. Green burial is legal, but there are rules and regulations for dealing with human remains that do have to be followed.

Who Can Prepare a Body for Green Burial

A green burial can be prepared by:

  • Any individual who has been given Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney over another person. They can usually take on the role of funeral director in making final arrangements and actually plan the funeral.
  • This individual can also complete any required documentation and transport the body in any type of vehicle to where the body will be prepared and then on to the final resting place.
  • It would also be a good idea to check with the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) list of states that recognize the decisions of a designated agent after a person's death. Not all states have this provision in their laws. On their website, you scroll down to the map and click on the state and it will list resource links that can guide you and help you learn your rights as a consumer.

Who to Avoid and Why

One place to avoid in the search for green burial information is the National Funeral Directors Association. Funeral homes and funeral directors make lots of money from elaborate funerals, metal caskets, and concrete burial containers. The simplicity and inexpensiveness of green burial mean less money for the average funeral home and that is alarming for those in the funeral business.

Common Myths Associated With Natural Burial Laws

There are a few commons myths associated with natural burial laws which include:

Only a Funeral Director Can Prepare the Body

For the most part, it is a myth that you need to use a funeral director. Since more people are choosing to care for their deceased loved ones at home, in most U.S. states it is not required to use a funeral director. However, the FCA notes that a funeral director is required to oversee the burial in nine states which include:

  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • Connecticut
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Nebraska

While a home funeral may not be an option in these states, the funeral homes themselves may offer green burial options. You can check with a few local funeral homes in your area.

All Bodies Are Required to Be Embalmed

It is a myth that the law requires all bodies to be embalmed. Embalming used to be promoted as a way to keep down the risk of getting any kind of infectious disease from human remains. In some places, outdated laws require embalming for the remains of those who died from a potentially contagious disease, but embalming is usually not a legal requirement. Embalming is required in the following states if the body is transported across state lines:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska

Embalming is required in the following states but only when the body leaves on a common carrier such as an airplane or train:

  • New Jersey
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota

In green burials, bodies are not embalmed due to the toxic chemicals involved. Embalming also interferes with the natural process of decomposition and the chemicals involved would contaminate the gravesite, killing existing plant life and preventing any new plants from growing.

It Is Illegal to Bury a Body Without a Burial Vault or Container

This is a myth because:

  • Concrete vaults and burial containers are actually not a legal requirement.
  • The vaults and containers are used by cemeteries to prevent any settling of the ground above a grave.
  • Vaults and containers are strictly a cosmetic issue although mounding the earth on top of a green grave site prevents all but the most subtle settling.

The Green Burial Council certifies green cemeteries and its standards require green cemeteries to use only containers that are biodegradable. Most artificial landscaping is discouraged as well. Many people who choose green burial decide on a casket that they can build themselves, or they purchase a simple wooden one from a local woodworker.

Green Burial Rules and Regulations

Green burial may be an unconventional choice for a funeral and burial, but it is not illegal. Groups like the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Center for Green Burial are committed to helping grieving families know their rights in planning for their loved one's memorial service and internment. For those interested in planning a green burial, knowing state and local laws can prevent stressful legal problems during an already stressful time.

Green Burial Rules and Regulations (+ Common Myths)