Green Funerals Pros and Cons – Part 1: Embalming

embalmingIn a world where our personal environmental impact is high on the agenda, a green funeral may be something that you are considering for yourself or for a family member. Even if you’re not, chances are you’ve at least heard of a green funeral – perhaps you’ve heard them referred to as ‘natural burials’ or ‘eco funerals’.

A green funeral is essentially a way of reducing the environmental impact that a body has once it has returned to the ground. This can involve foregoing embalming, using a more biodegradable coffin, omitting the need for a gravestone, and planting trees and flowers on top of your loved one’s resting place.

You can go completely green and eschew all funeral traditions, or you can find a happy medium somewhere; the extent to which the funeral is ‘green’ very much depends on the individual. But what exactly are the benefits of green funerals? And are there any disadvantages that you should be aware of? In this series of articles, we’ll bring you all the information you need.

Green Funerals Pros and Cons – Part 1


Embalming is the process that funeral directors will undertake in order to preserve the body after death. Nowadays, it is usually done with formaldehyde and other chemicals, which are injected into the blood vessels of the body. Essentially, the chemicals prevent the natural processes of decay after death.

In green funerals, embalming is usually not performed on the body. This can have benefits and disadvantages.

Pros of Not Embalming

Cheaper: It almost goes without saying, but not having the body embalmed after death will save on funeral costs. Most funeral directors will wash and dress the deceased, whether or not embalming takes place; embalming is usually offered as an additional service, and one which you must pay for. If you’re looking to save some money to use elsewhere in the funeral, foregoing embalming is one option.

Greener: Given that the body is pumped with chemicals during the embalming process, it should be self-explanatory that renouncing this process is better for the environment. It means that there is nothing unnatural being put into the ground, and it allows the body to decompose more quickly and naturally. A lack of embalming also means that the animals living under the ground that aid in the decomposing process have a more organic habitat in which to do so.

Cons of Not Embalming

Limitations on Visitation: One tangible advantage of embalming is that it allows family and friends more time to visit the body in the chapel of rest between the death and the funeral. Without embalming, the natural processes of putrefaction would make such visits less pleasant, and there is a much more limited window of time in which visiting is possible.

No Option of Restoration: In the case of an injury or disease, it is possible that the deceased’s body will have been affected in a number of different ways. Embalming has a restorative function as well, allowing any blemishes to be erased. Without embalming, anyone visiting the body will have to see these injuries, which can be upsetting for some.

Reduced Flexibility: These days, it is no longer tradition in many families that funerals must be undertaken one or two days after the person’s death – many families now wait a week or two, or even longer, so that they can plan everything in due course and so that anyone who wishes to attend the funeral has the time to make travel plans to do so. Embalming allows the family this time and flexibility to arrange the funeral on their own terms; without embalming, there may be a few added time pressures to take into account.

The decision to embalm or not to embalm is only one of several you can make in order to have a greener funeral. For more pros and cons in the world of green funerals, stay tuned for Part 2 which looks at the choices available for coffins.

This post was written by Mark Gregory.