Embalming Started During the Civil War and Is Not Legally Required in the United States – So Why Is It Still the Most Popular?

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Embalming Started During the Civil War

Prior to embalming, a practice started with Civil War-era doctor Thomas Holmes to send soldiers home, a simple pine box was used at home in a more personal farewell. Traditional burials can now easily surpass $10,000! After a house and car, burials are a person’s third-largest personal expense. Today, the mortuary industry is a $25 billion-a-year industry. “When you’re grieving, it’s really hard to say, ‘What’s the cheapest casket you’ve got?’” says Karen Leonard, an activist who helped the late Jessica Mitford update her 1963 exposé, “The American Way of Death.” Mortuaries know a grieving family wouldn’t dare ask this question and use their grief to upsell unnecessary services and expensive merchandise like exotic wood or metal caskets.

Sidenote: A unique California company is recycling steel coffins into one-of-a-kind couches. These are coffins that have defects or are older models (read: they have not been used by the deceased). 

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According to National Geographic, every year American funerals consume:

  • 30 million board feet of casket wood,
  • 90,000 tons of steel,
  • 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults,
  • 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid,
  • and thousands of acres of land.
Green Burial Options

A Natural Alternative

Prepared without the harsh chemical preservatives used in embalming, a natural burial is easier on Mother Earth and your wallet. A green burial will typically cost less than $3,000. This is how most of humanity across the world has cared for its dead for thousands of years and the sustainable, environmentally friendly aspect has brought it back to mainstream society. Without the green burial being a new concept the eco conscious nature has given it a new twist. Conservation management techniques and restoration planning are being done in conjunction with green burials and helping to protect endangered habitats at the same time.
Baby Boomers don’t want to spend life separating paper from plastic, just to put concrete, metal and chemicals back into the ground,” says Clint Crary, whose Pioneer Burials in Sacramento, California, is a leading provider of natural burial products. “They don’t want to live a life that is environmentally friendly, then have their funeral not be.”
Recycling at it’s best, a natural burial ensures the body will return to the earth in a natural way that doesn’t inhibit decomposition. This is usually done in biodegradable wicker or cardboard, a shroud, a bamboo casket or in a casket made of wood certified as sustainably harvested. And in place of a traditional headstone, you might have a simple small stone marker or perhaps plant a tree over the grave. GPS trackers will aid anyone in finding the burial site.

Quick Facts

  • 70% of AARP Magazine readers prefer eco-burials
  • More than 100,000 people visit the Green Burial Council website each month
  • Natural burials are one-third the cost
  • Natural cemeteries have 95% less density
  • No laws in the US require embalming

To find an eco-cemetery near you, please visit ForestOfMemories.org. Forest of Memories promotes and supports the development of eco burial across North America.

Want to read more about natural funerals? You might like these:

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Naturally Earth Friendly was born out of a love for everything healthy and good for our bodies and planet. This includes tips to adjust our everyday lives, environmentally conscious efforts we can make and smarter natural products that help make a difference. It's possible to head towards a more sustainable future and we can do it together.

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