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5 Zero Waste Funeral Ideas

Zero Waste Lifestyle

Last Updated on September 15, 2020

I am honestly shocked how much The Lion King prepared me to deal with life’s tragedies. Most of my blog posts are a reflection on things I am currently going through. These past several weeks I feel like I’ve been through the circle of life. 

5 zero waste funeral ideas from #fuuneralideas #funerals #zerowaste #lowwaste #sustainable #ecofriendly #gogreen #greenburials #compost #simple

I got to see my friend who’s about to have a baby! I recently got married and you can read all about it here and here. And, my grandmother passed away this weekend.

She had fallen ill about 6 weeks ago. It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I miss her all the same. 

I have always joked that the only way to truly be zero waste is to die. In the process, I’ve realized that traditional burials are not environmentally friendly. In fact, you can be pretty wasteful even in death. 

My family has never been very traditional. My grandmother has always detested funerals and would be furious if we gave her one. She always said, “If you weren’t there to see me when I was still alive, I don’t want you there when I’m dead.”  

Cremation isn’t exactly environmentally friendly either. It can release a lot of toxins and pollutants into the air. However, I would say it’s more eco-friendly than a traditional burial. 

Traditional burials take a lot of space and resources so mother and I have been looking at alternative green burials, and I wanted to share with you what we’ve found. 

“Contemporary funeral practices and cemeteries are ecologically problematic. Digging in a modern cemetery in the United States is much like digging through a toxic waste site.

Every year in the United States, the chemicals and materials buried along with bodies in a conventional burial include approximately 30 million board feet of hardwoods, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 104,272 tons of steel, and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve 2011).

Also buried are approximately 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid, primarily formaldehyde. Exposure to formaldehyde affects funeral workers’ health, demonstrated by a high incidence of leukemia and brain and colon cancer among embalmers (Holness 1989).

The pollutants are not limited to the area in which they are buried. In one study, soil samples taken at coffin depth revealed elevated concentrations of metals used in casket construction, including copper, lead, zinc, and iron (Spongberg and Becks 2000).

Formaldehyde and other preservatives are pumped into bodies as part of the embalming process that, although not required by law in the United States, is characteristic of contemporary burial. Although a key justification for embalming is that it slows decay, it does not prevent it.

The next step in this complex ritual to deter decay is placing the body in an oftentimes hermetically sealed hardwood or metal casket. To prevent uneven settling of the soil at the surface, the casket is placed in a thin concrete vault.

There is no legal requirement to use vaults, but most private cemeteries in the United States require them. These vaults are then placed in modern “memorial parks,” extensive water-consuming lawns that are doused with chemical fertilizers to keep them a vibrant green.”

reef ball:

Ashes of your loved one are mixed with concrete to create a reef ball. Reef balls are placed in the ocean providing habitats to fish and other micro-organisms. 

The concrete used in forming the reef balls in pH neutral. The ball is hollow and the surface is highly texturized allowing all sorts or creatures to nest and create a home. 

Growth can be seen in as little as a couple of weeks, and it will help support marine habitats for a lifetime. You can read more about reef balls here.

They also have an option for pets. 

mushroom suit:

The mushroom suit is made of organic cotton and is infused with a bio mix that contains mushrooms and other microorganisms. All of their fabric scraps are composted. 

The mushrooms and microorganisms aid in decomposition, they help neutralize toxins in the body, and transfer nutrients to plant life. You can read more about the mushroom suit here. 

The also have an option for pets. 


There are several companies that will take the ashes from loved ones and turn them into precious stones. 

They separate the carbon and under extreme heat, they turn the carbon into graphite. Once it’s been turned into graphite they heat it again and put it under enough pressure to turn it into a precious stone. 

You can read more about turning ashes into diamonds here. They also have options for pets. 


There are several companies offering tree urns. Most place a portion of the ashes inside of a fully biodegradable container. 

The container contains a tree seed and uses the nutrients of the remains to grow. I think it would be lovely to have forests memorializing our loved ones instead of our current cemeteries. 

Back home, in Arkansas, we live on a small lake. We’ve gone with this option for my grandmother. We chose a weeping willow tree. It kinda reminds me of Pocahontas. She’ll be my own Grandmother Willow. 

You can also purchase a Living Urn for your pet too. Read more on the Living Urn website here

pine box:

You can also just keep it really simple with no embalming and no fancy box. Using a plain pine box and forgoing the embalming process will allow your body to naturally return to the earth. 

I think she’d be happy knowing that she was going to be a tree. 

And, since she won’t be having a funeral, this is my toast, my speech, my eulogy for the most bad ass woman I know. 

You were a single mother in the 1950’s. You were a self-made business woman. You were successful beyond belief in a man’s world. You made millions and you gave all of it away to charity. 

You gave away everything you had to help those less fortunate. 

Arkansas is number four in America for childhood hunger and you drove a truck delivering food all over the state because “A hungry child cannot learn.” 

On one of those trips you fell and broke both your legs and before you drove yourself to the emergency room, you finished your route. 

You were stubborn. You were tenacious. You were fire. It’s because of you, I am the woman I am today. 

Pour one out for Nina tonight. May she rest in peace. 

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  1. Sorry for your loss. She sounds like she was quite a woman.

    I live in one of the few states where liquid cremation is legal and I personally prefer that option for myself whenever it becomes necessary.

  2. Hey I just found your blog and found this article first. I am really sorry for your loss, but it sounds like Nina was a strong woman and had a fulfulled life. I am sure she would be happy if she knew she is going to be a tree for her afterlife 🙂
    Thank you for showing me all these ways what to do after a person’s gone. I do not really like to think about this topic, but I learned a lot after reading it.
    I hope you will be okay soon!
    xx, Alisa

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. She led a full life that should be celebrated. It’s not easy to think about death and burials, but I think I want to be a tree. 🙂

  3. Thanks for your blog! My grandmother also recently died, and although I am really sad for her passing, was shocked at how wasteful funerals can be. We’ve been researching options and one thing I found was the Green Burial Council, which works with funeral homes and cemeteries to set green burial standards in North America and can help people find a provider ( Also love the Reef idea, that’s what my husband and I will be doing when the time comes 🙂

  4. I am sorry for your loss, Kathryn, and also happy for you that you got to share your life with such an empowered woman. The words you dedicated to her at the end of the post brought me to tears.

    Also, thank you very much for this post. I’ve been worried about my funeral for the half of my 25 year old life. When I was 12 I said that I wanted to be incinerated. Then, when I was about 14 I declared to my family that I wanted to be buried in a plain pine box. I got the idea from Kill Bill Vol. 2 chapter where Beatrix Kiddo is buried alive ("The lonely grave of Paula Schultz) in a pine box. It may seem a little odd, but while that chapter of Kill Bill was super empowering for me, it also gave me the sensation that a pine box was the best way to be buried. Then, a few years later, I watched "Six Feet Under" and declared I wanted to be buried in a shroud in the ground without a box just like two of the characters (totally illegal where I live). Then I knew about the option of becoming a tree and I decided I wanted this better. This was way before even knowing what zero waste is. I’ve always thought about my own dead. And now the mushroom suit/shroud (maybe) just made me change my mind again!!

    My family really does not understand why I’m so obsessed with my own funeral because I’m young and they will probably be dead before me, but with every passing year and funeral I go, it is more clear to me that I can die any day. Now that I’m a zero waster, it is more important to me to be buried in a green way but I always thought that the best way to rest in peace forever was the greenest option. So I really think I should decide which option suits me better and make vital testament. I think it is better that we take care of how we want our funeral because when we die our family it is very difficult and painful to decide this type of things. Since we all are going to die for sure, it is better that this stops being a taboo & we start making smart decisions.

    Thank you very much for your post. I send you a big hug.


  5. Kathryn, Sorry for your loss. I think this is the most honest eulogy I have ever read or saw. You are lucky to have had a such beautiful grandmother and I’m sure she was happy to have a wonderful grandaughter like you. XOXOXO

  6. I love this. Thank you for this fantastic information in during this difficult time for you. Your grandma sounds like she was an incredible woman. I wish your family the best!

  7. Parents in a memorial park (no embalming), had a memorial service. Same with us (metal caskets). Large granite monument and 4 plots side by side. Sister and spouse will be cremated and ashes in White mts. in N. Az. Rest of family in mosleums in Tucson or various burial plots…

  8. I am new to the zero waste movement and working on plastic free. However, I am a biologist and nature lover and have always wanted to be appropriately returned to the Earth in my death. My dream "burial" would be to be dumped in the ocean (un-embalmed of course) so that marine life could do what it does best- make the most of every little bit. This is most likely not a viable option though, and your post provided me with some really great alternatives – Thank you!
    I also had a kick ass grandma who molded me into the spit-fire woman I am today. It is never easy to say good bye but always rewarding to see her traits shine through me. Thank you for sharing. <3

  9. I am very intrigued by the burial option of putting the body in a pod that is buried in the ground with a tree on top,.the favorite tree of the person that died. I really love the silk tree. Where can I be buried like this? I live in Washington State.