Eco Funerals | The Complete Guide

April 1, 2019 - 24 min read

Every day we hear about new ways we can help save our planet. What if I told you one of the greatest gifts you could ever give our earth can be done once you’ve left it? No, I’m not saying haunt people who don’t recycle—I’m talking about eco funerals.

While eco funerals have been happening for a while, the range of options available haven’t really been featured too much online until recently. But what are eco funerals? Are they more cost-effective than a traditional burial or cremation? And how are traditional funerals really affecting our environment?
We’ll answer all these questions and more.

A History on Burials, Eco Funerals & Cremations

Most people would have learned about Egyptian burial rituals in school. But did you know the first crematoriums weren’t built in Europe and the USA until the mid-late 1800s and not in Australia until the early 1900s?
Throughout time, an endless number of ancient burial sites have been uncovered, and even with land and seas between the discoveries a lot of them show similarities. Not only are their likenesses between them, but also to how the modern world conducts funerals today and how we can learn from them—not only to memorialise our loved ones but also return our remains to the earth to replenish our environment.
While some early cultures created post-life rituals out of necessity, others, like the aboriginal clans of Australia, were proud of their respect for the earth and sea, performing rites in honour of this and the deceased.
Take a step back in time with our historical guide to burials, funerals and cremations.

A Historical Timeline of the Hereafter

A complete timeline of eco funerals and rituals throughout time

Burials & Funerals Background

If you Google the world’s oldest funeral, you’ll be inundated with references to ‘The Red Lady of Paviland’ in Wester Europe, dating back to approximately 24000 B.C.
The Red Lady of Paviland was unearthed in the 1820s by Reverend William Buckley in the Paviland Cave in Southern Wales. It was earlier believed to be the remains of a woman, but was later discovered to be those of a man. While this is one of Western Europe’s oldest burial sites, there are much older in other continents.
The world’s oldest intentional burial site is one that is widely debated.
The Pit of Bones, which was located in a limestone cave in Atapuerca, Spain, is thought to be more than 400,000 years old. While quartzite stone tools surrounded the 28 individuals, experts are unable to determine if the burial was out of necessity (to keep away the smell, which would have attracted animals) or an intentional ritual.
The Pit Of Bones - Spain
There is however an undisputed deliberate burial near Nazareth in Israel. The Skhul-Qafzeh site is dated back to around 90,000-100,000 years ago, found in 1933 by René Neuville. This site contained 15 individuals, 71 pieces of ochre and ochre-stained stone tools, which are believed to have been used in the burial ritual.
Ochre is commonly found in prehistoric gravesites. While experts aren’t entirely sure of the reason, it is believed the rust-coloured markings were used to mark the grave or applied as hair, face and body paint during the ritual.
The aboriginal people of Australia are one of the first cultures to intentionally integrate their respect for nature into their funeral rites. Each clan had their own ritual with dances, songs, body paint, mourning traditions and burial processes. A common two-step process was use in ancient aboriginal burials—the first being an elevated wood platform adorned with plant matter. The body was then left for months to decompose. Once this step was complete, the bones were then collected and painted with red ochre and distributed to other members of the clan to carry with them or wrapped in paperbark and laid to rest in a cave or tree trunk. Aboriginal Australians respected the land and bodies of water around them, believing in giving back to the earth, even after death.

Cremation Background

It is believed the earliest form of cremation came from Europe and the Near East around 3000 B.C. Through findings of decorative urns, scholars were able to see the use of cremation spread from Russia to the British Isles (now Spain and Portugal), with cemeteries for cremation appearing in Hungary and northern Italy.
By 1000 B.C. cremation was an important part of Grecian burial rituals. From 600 B.C, Rome also began to use cremation, however an official decree was issued in the mid 5th century banning the popular death ritual in the city.
As a result of Emperor Constantine I’s Christian influence, burial became the preferred method by 400 A.D. Only in times of war or plague was cremation the more popular option, and only due to necessity.
The modern use of a chamber for cremation only came into practice a little more than a century ago after Professor Brunetti of Italy displayed his model at the 1873 Vienna Exposition.
The Rotunde - Centre of the Vienna Exposition in 1873
It was in 1874 when the Cremation Society of England was created and the first crematorium in Europe, followed by other crematoriums in England and Germany.
It wasn’t until 1925 that the first crematorium was built in Australia. Although late to the method, cremation is now the preferred funeral practice. In 2014, a study by McCrindle Research showed 2 in 3 (66%) of Australians preferred cremation to burials. An article by The Sydney Morning Herald suggested the rising popularity of cremations is due to cultural and religious beliefs and the want of ‘no-fuss’ funerals.
It’s no surprise with the rising popularity of cremation that new and normally more ecological ways to store or use ashes have come to light. Scroll to our Urn Alternatives and Eco Alternatives to find out more on unique way to display ashes.

The Environmental Impact of Traditional Burial Vs. Cremation

You know the history, but is a burial or cremation better for the environment and could either one of these methods be considered an eco funeral?

Costs & Eco-Risks of Postmortem Processes

Funerals have a price tag whether it’s an eco funeral or a traditional one, and the cost of a funeral depends on the choices you make. Not only costs related to whether you’re buried or cremated and any costs surrounding religious rites, but also your personal selections for caskets, urns, plaques, headstones, plots, funeral director, transport, flowers, catering and other requests. We’ve listed some items, services and different options for you to consider to help you plan a funeral in your price range.

Cremation & the Environment

Item/ServiceCost & ConsiderationsEnvironmental Risks
Transport to CrematoriumCosts related in transporting the deceased to the crematorium. May be included in cremation fees.Fuel consumption and emissions of air pollution and greenhouse gases.
Cremation Only (Immediate or Delayed)If the deceased wishes for no funeral after cremation, only the price of cremation is paid. Depending on your religion or legal reasons, you may require an immediate or delayed cremation, which may alter costs.Greenhouse gas emissions from incinerator. Calcified compounds from remains (lead for example) release toxic emissions.
Cremation & ServiceIncluding both cremation and funeral.Greenhouse gas emissions from incinerator. Calcified compounds from remains (lead for example) release toxic emissions. Associated pollution from electricity and catering. Chemicals involved with growing flowers.
Urn or AlternativeA decorative or simple urn to hold ashes. Alternative options include Reef Balls, Bios Urns, pods, commemorative diamonds and jewellery and vinyl records. If scattering of ashes is being performed, a less permanent option can be considered.Traditional urns such as those made from glass, wood, marble and granite are made or sourced using non-eco friendly methods. Alternatives can help restore our environment, be biodegradable and made using environmentally safe methods.
Plaque/Cremation PlotIf the deceased wishes for their remains to be placed in a cemetery cremation burial for easy access to all mourners.Use of stone and metals, taking up land mass.
Personal Touches for CeremonyThis includes flowers, music, catering, photos, transport for family (no hearse required), special wishes for ashes to be scattered and other personal wishes.Associated pollution from electricity and catering. Chemicals involved with growing flowers.
Memorial ItemsMay include a memorial registry book, acknowledgement cards, thank-you cards, prayer cards, tribute CDs, DVDs or books.Non-recycled papers harming our forests. Methods of production can be non-eco friendly.
Legal FeesCost involved with the will and estate.N/A

Burial & the Environment

Item/ServiceCost & ConsiderationsEnvironmental Risks
Funeral Home FeesMay include: removal and transport of the deceased. Washing, embalming, restorative art, dressing, casketing, hairdressing and cosmetology. Certificate of Death and legal paperwork. Obituary composition and newspaper notification. Funeral arrangement, including music, catering, cemetery arrangements. Organising memorial products.Emissions from transportation. Toxic chemicals involved in embalming. Chemicals in products used to sanitise and wash the deceased. Associated emissions related to use of electricity.
CemeteryEach cemetery will have fees and regulations surrounding plot types, religion guidelines and required prior arrangements.Occupation of space, unless upright burial is arranged.
Officiants and ClergymenFees associated with hiring an officiant for a ceremony.N/A
CasketCost depends on what type of casket and lining chosen.Materials used (including mahogany) are of endangered species. Non-biodegradable. Steel and wood coatings.
Headstone or PlaquePrice depends on size and material of chosen headstone or plaque.Associated emissions from material sourcing and production.
HearseTo transport deceased from funeral home to cemetery.Fuel consumption and emissions of air pollution and greenhouse gases.
Personal Touches for CeremonyThis includes flowers, music, catering, photos, transport for family special wishes for ashes to be scattered and other personal wishes.Associated pollution from electricity and catering. Chemicals involved with growing flowers.
Memorial ItemsMay include a memorial registry book, acknowledgement cards, thank-you cards, prayer cards, tribute CDs, DVDs or books.Non-recycled papers harming our forests. Methods of production can be non-eco friendly.
Legal FeesCost involved with the will and estate.N/A

If you’re planning a green funeral download our eco funerals checklist for more considerations.

Cultural Considerations

Depending on which religion you follow, you may not be able to choose between a burial and cremation, and it may also impact your ability to incorporate some eco funeral elements into the service. Many religions have become more flexible with what they disallow as modern society has progressed, however many are still firm in their beliefs. We’ve made an easy to follow chart below on cremation and embalming, viewings, wakes and visitations and where a funeral can be held in different religions.

Anglican (Episcopalian)Both allowedUp to the wishes of the familyChurch, funeral home or chapel at the cemetery
BaptistBoth allowedViewing is customaryDependent on church
BuddhistBoth allowed. Monks must be present at cremationUp to the wishes of the familyAlter, preferably with monks present
CatholicEmbalming allowed. Cremation allowed but not preferableA Vigil before the funeralCatholic church and selected chapels
Eastern OrthodoxEmbalming allowed. Cremation is prohibitedA wake for 1–3 daysChurch
HinduEmbalming is allowed. Cremation is allowed & traditional, although not for babies, children & saintsBrief wakeTraditionally, casket is walked to cremation site. Can be transported to crematorium.
JewishEmbalming and cosmetology not allowed unless by law. Routine autopsies not allowed. Cremation is dependent on degree of orthodoxy. Preference is burial as body in whole stateNo viewing, visitation or wake. Family participate in a KeriahSynagogue, gravesite or funeral home
LutheranEmbalming, cremation, entombing and commending to the sea are allowedUp to the wishes of the familyChurch or funeral home
MethodistEmbalming and cremation allowedUp to the wishes of the familyChurch, funeral home, chapel at the cemetery, family home or gravesite
MuslimCremation is forbidden. Routine autopsies, embalming and cosmetology not allowed unless enforced by law. Body must be washed and shrouded in a particular order and buriedNo viewingMosque
Latter-Day SaintsEmbalming is allowed. Cremation is allowed but not encouragedBrief open-casket viewing before the funeral serviceChurch
PresbyterianEmbalming is allowed. No rules on cremation but generally not supportedUp to the wishes of the familyGraveside funeral, memorial service or traditional funeral
QuakerEmbalming and cremation allowedVisitation prior to funeral on family wishesUp to the area meetings

Many religions have strict rites that must be followed outside of the details listed above. When it comes to following tradition and incorporating environmentally friendly eco funeral options, many faiths are becoming more accepting. Some religions, such as the Muslim faith, are quite eco friendly already. This is due to needing the deceased to be buried as soon as possible and the belief that cremation, autopsies, embalming and cosmetology are not to be performed. They also believe in burying their deceased in a natural state with a simple shroud.
For those with stricter rituals, speaking to your local church, mosque, synagogue or house of prayer will be able to assist you on what you can and cannot do.

The Environmental Impact of Funerals

It’s all-good and well to want a memorial fitting of your life decked out with grand casket, large stone monument and all your friends and family gathering to say their goodbyes. But how does it affect our planet?
When your body is embalmed (if burial is chosen) a mix of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, hymectants, wetting agents and other solvents are used. While chemicals such a formaldehyde are naturally produced by the environment, as it breaks down it creates formic acid and carbon monoxide, which can damage both human and wildlife health.
This chemical can affect animals’ ability to breed and shorten their life and is also highly toxic to marine life. It should be noted that some research suggests formaldehyde, while can be a risk if consumed or direct exposure, is normally broken down in the air before it can damage the ozone layer. For this reason, it has not been seen to directly harm soil or plant matter.
eco funerals burial
Other impacts from funerals include the concrete used, steel from caskets, emissions from cremation and second-hand damage from transport, catering, electricity used for music and speeches, flowers and the materials used in caskets and urns.
But how can we fix the problem?
By incorporating aspects of an eco funeral into our service or adopting an entirely green approach—whether you’re pre-arranging your own or the funeral of a family member—you’re not only helping to neutralise the effects of a traditional funeral, but helping our environment flourish. We’re about to tell you exactly how you can do your part for our environment once you’re gone, including how you can rise from the ashes by growing a tree from your remains.

The Rise of Eco Funerals

The modern green funeral movement began by necessity in the United Kingdom. As seen in many smaller nations, cremation rates rose as high as 70% in the 1990s due to limited space. The solution was the first green burial cemetery built in 1993.
A green or organic burial refers to a post-mortem body with absolutely no embalming processes being performed on it. The deceased is then placed in the ground as it is or with a biodegradable wrapping, such as a cotton, linen or bamboo shroud.
Eco friendly Silk Burial Shroud
Once the earth is settled, indigenous plants are grown above the site with communal memorials made from naturally sourced materials.
Since this first green cemetery in the UK, the world has slowly followed suit. Queensland’s first green burial took place in 2015 in the only green cemetery in the state. With the growing popularity of eco funerals, Australia is seeing more and more green cemeteries appearing nation-wide.
An eco funeral doesn’t necessarily have to involve a green burial, although it is a valuable asset to reducing the impacts of funerals on our environment.

Eco Funeral options in Traditional Ceremonies

A completely organic funeral isn’t for everyone, but there are plenty of ways you can incorporate eco friendly aspects into your funeral and post-life plan without breaking tradition or the bank.

Sustainable Catering

It has been suggested that the agricultural industry is a major contributor to our planet’s global warming problem. With this in mind, meat-free funerals are becoming not only more popular, but easier to arrange.
Vegetarian or vegan menus aren’t only for those following these diets as a lifestyle. Omnivores are often surprised at how delicious meat-free alternatives are and how many of their favourite foods can be recreated without beef, pork, chicken, lamb, seafood, dairy or other animal products, without losing flavour.
Most caterers will happily organise a vegetarian menu, however an exclusive vegan or vegetarian caterer will be able to give you the best options. Prices can be a little more expensive, however most caterers are happy to work within your budget.

Green Funeral Fleets

Many funeral directors are adopting more economical transportation methods, with some holistic directors we found including a greener car option. France Family Funerals in Newcastle, for example, can purchase carbon credits to offset emissions from not only cremation, but transportation too.
Nissan Leaf Hearse
Another way to reduce your environmental impact with transportation is to suggest public transport or ride sharing for people attending your funeral. This can be included in the public service notice. By reducing the number of cars on our roads, you’re helping to minimise carbon emissions, as well as deterioration of highways and streets, meaning less road works and in turn less gas-guzzling machinery being used. This also means your guests can save money on a full tank by splitting the costs.

Funeral Live-Streaming

This is a slightly controversial eco-alterative as it does involve the use of electricity, however we thought we’d add it as it can reduce the number of people travelling long distance.
Rather than having guests from interstate or overseas travel by polluting transportation, arranging to have your funeral digitally streamed is an option. Mourners who are unable to attend the funeral can watch the service live on a computer, phone or tablet.
Companies such as Livestream will be able to arrange this for you.

Eco Funeral Urns, Green Caskets & Burials

An urn is pretty and a polished wood casket presents nice at a funeral, but are they helping to rebuild our planet? By replacing your urn or traditional casket with one of the options below, you could be helping to save an endangered plant species, regrow our struggling reefs or simply give your family a lasting moment without harming the environment.

Reef Balls—Rebuilding Reefs with Human Remains

58% of coral reefs are currently under threat from humans, and it was this significant deterioration that inspired college roommates, Don Brawley and Todd Barber, from the University of Georgia to create The Reef Ball Foundation. After years of research and testing, the first Reef Ball project was complete in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1992. Since then, they have placed more than 700,000 artificial reefs in more than 70 countries, including Australia, significantly replenishing the ocean’s dwindling natural reefs.
Coral Reef Burial Infographic
Made from a mixture of your loved one’s cremated remains and environmentally safe concrete, an Eternal Reef is designed to replicate bedrock used in natural reef development. Once the mixture containing the cremated remains is created, it is then poured into a mould to create a ‘Pearl’ and then left to set overnight.
Using the balls from The Reef Ball Foundation, Eternal Reefs welcomes ashes from around the world for their U.S-based projects, working within domestic and internal guidelines for transportation of remains.
Prices start from $2,995 for simple memorialisation services, and extend to $7,495 for the largest reef, which accommodates up to 4 sets of remains. To put this into perspective, a single casket made of mahogany (an endangered rainforest tree and popular casket wood) can cost upwards of $10,000.
Your beloved pets can also be eternalised while helping rebuild our reefs, often at no additional cost.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Diamonds—The Rise of Cremation Gems

While we never forget a loved one, we often don’t make as much time as we should to visit their gravesite—this goes for pets too. Cremation diamonds are a unique way to remember loved ones who have passed on whenever you put on your ring, necklace, earrings or other jewellery.
How are diamonds made from ashes? Imitating the earth’s natural process of heating carbon under pressure over millions of years to create a diamond, a cremation diamond is formed using ashes, hair or nails, pressure and heat in just a few weeks.

Once created, the stone is then polished and cut like any other diamond or gem. Other jewellery can be made, depending on your chosen company.
While a cremation diamond is beautiful to look at and is a fitting tribute to a loved one, they can be costly. Most companies start around $3,000 and can exceed $25,000 for a truly exquisite masterpiece. Remember, the 4 Cs of diamond quality apply when your stone is being created. The cut, colour, clarity and carat of a man-made diamond should be identical to those of earth-mined stones, although confirm with your chosen maker to ensure they follow the international diamond standards.
Diamond mining has a serious impact on our planet. To find a 1.0 carat diamond, at least 1,750 tons of earth has to be extracted. This amount increases with the size of the sought-after diamond. To make just 1 gold ring holding a diamond, 20 tons of mining waste is produced. Other damages are incurred from mined earth being mixed with cyanide to dissolve gold and silver, which pollutes surrounding land and waterways. It is for these reasons and many more that man-made diamonds are becoming more popular with the current generation.

If a commemorative diamond is something you are considering for your own memorial or a loved one, we recommend doing your research on the best companies both locally in Australia and overseas to find one you are truly happy with.
Bill Yeo from Heart In Diamond advised when looking for a diamond manufacturer to commemorate the life of a loved one to look for these things:

  • Complete transparency in the manufacturing process.
  • No limitation on cut or colour.
  • No minimum standard of clarity.
  • The supply of a Gemological Certificate upon completion.

Biodegradable Urns & Eco Funeral Caskets

Did you know a lot of popular (and expensive) caskets and urns are made from endangered tree species, such as mahogany?
Biodegradable caskets and urns are becoming more and more popular, as are coffins made from waste wood, FSC-certified wood and biodegradable cotton linings. Cardboard has also become an eco friendly option.
A range of options are available for those looking to arrange an eco funeral casket or urn option for their own funeral or for a loved one.
Woven Wicker Casket
Woven or wicker caskets are made from willow, seagrass, bamboo or banana leaves, and are made using a low-carbon footprint method. Often these caskets are made or woven by hand or using hand-cranked machines to create the end result.
A holistic funeral director will be able to advise of a range of options to suit your budget and conscience.
Some religions have certain specifications they need to follow. For example, Jewish ceremonies call for caskets made of all natural wood. In these cases, you’ll need to speak to a specialist in religious caskets.

Upright Burials

As the earth’s population grows each year so does the number of people who leave it, which in turn leads to a requirement for more burial plots. Companies such as Upright Burials have found a solution that is environmentally both sustainable and compact.
Instead of laying the body down horizontally, an upright burial involves the body being wrapped in a biodegradable covering and placed in a vertical position.
The price is quite reasonable for this particular company at $3,250, including collection, administration, burial preparation and single burial.

Eco Funerals Raising Forests From Ashes

Life doesn’t have to end at death. Companies such as Bios Urn/Incube and Capsula Mundi have made it possible for you to live on even once you have left this earth with burial pods and urns.
Biodegradable Burial Pod
Both companies offer worldwide shipping of their urns and pods, making it possible for anyone to grow into a plant or tree. The idea behind both companies is to combine human or pet ashes with plant matter, with the intention of being planted outdoors, or in the case of Bios Incube, in a pot for the home.To make it available around the world, a range of trees and plants are available. It’s also a really affordable option as well as environmentally friendly. Prices range from $145 to around $650.

Completing the natural cycle of life by enriching the earth with a tree grown from your remains is possible with companies such as Bios Urn. Their products were used to grow a tree from the world’s only albino gorilla and are changing the way people thing about death. With more than 66,000 followers on Facebook, Bios Urn is showing us that a future where our remains are used to regrow an entire forest is not out of reach.

Eternalise your Ashes in a Vinyl Record

Andvinyly is a UK-based business that will turn your ashes into vinyl records.
Yes, that’s right. You or your family can choose a playlist, and have your ashes pressed into a record.
While this technically isn’t environmentally friendly for an eco funeral, it is something that can be used by your friends and family time and time again, instead of just one urn.

The pricing is roughly $5,500AUD with today’s conversation rate for a basic package that includes up to 30 discs with 2 sides of 24-minutes of audio.
As the audio is supplied by the family of the deceased (you can pre-arrange a playlist or recording of your choice to be supplied), you can put whatever you like on the on the record, including your favourite music or a personalised message to your loved ones.
If you’re a muso, this is a chance to really make sure everyone you know hears your sound.
Apart from providing your family and friends with a cool parting gift, the And Vinyl website is super quirky and worth checking out.

Traditional Vs. Eco Funeral

So, you’ve heard where different funeral rituals come from and their impact on the environment. You’ve learned how you can help fix the problem. But which one is really better for not only your personal wishes, but the environment, when the time comes? We’ve summed it all up for you below.

Item/ServiceTraditionalEco Funeral Alternative
CremationAverage cost by the Cremation Research Council: $1,100
Additional fees for cemetery plot.
Average cost by the Cremation Research Council: $1,100
May incur emission offset fee.
BurialAverage cost by the National Funeral Directors Association (inclusive of embalming and metal casket): $6,600
Price depends on choices.
Average cost by the National Funeral Directors Association (inclusive of embalming and metal casket): $6,600
Price depends on choices, however may be reduced as many eco funerals don’t require a casket.
Upright Burials: $3,250
CasketMetal or wood casket.
Average cost depends on choice. $2,500—$10,000+
Cardboard, wicker, biodegradable. Average cost depends on choice. $4,500+
Urn & AlternativesTraditional urn. Average price depends on choice.
Average price depends on choice.
Bios Urn: $145
Capsula Mundi: $640+
Reef Balls: $2,995+
Vinyl: $5,500
Diamond/Gemstone: $3,500+
FlowersFloral arrangements: $50+
Tributes & Wreaths: $100+
Large casket spray: $250–$700
Donation in place of flowers for both service & guests to bring. $0+

Choosing a Post-life Professional

When choosing a eco funeral director, you want someone who will respect your wishes, environmentally friendly or integrated funeral.
Be sure to talk to a few different funeral directors to find one who suits your requirements. Eco funeral directors specialise in organising greener funerals, however for a traditional director, you may need to check how they can incorporate green elements into the service for you.
Download our guide to finding the right director for your holistic burial, cremation and/or service.


While death is normally associated with the end, an eco funeral means it is just the beginning. From simple, cost-effective methods, such as using recycled paper products at the service, reducing the negative impact funerals can have on the environment, to actually helping revive our marine life or purify the air we breath by growing a tree from your ashes, every bit counts. Even the smallest budget can accommodate simple switches, such as forgoing embalming and coffins for a natural burial with a cotton shroud or opting to donate a sum of money to a charity instead of having flowers—which can even save you money. When you choose an ecologically beneficial burial, you really do become larger than life.

Find the best Funeral Directors in your area

I'm located in