Green Burial Shrouds

Learn what materials to look for and how to prepare a loved one’s body for an eco-friendly burial from a green burial expert.

A burial shroud is simply any piece of fabric used to wrap a body. The Green Burial Council declares that a “shroud is suitable for a green burial if it’s made from materials/substances that are nontoxic and readily biodegradable.” A shroud-wrapped body can be placed inside a casket or directly into a grave.

Families often tell me their loved one wants to be wrapped in a basic sheet, comforter, or blanket. Great! As long as it is made out of something 100-percent biodegradable (such as cotton, wool, silk, and so on), that makes for an ideal green burial. Previously used fabrics, like wall tapestries and linen tablecloths, also can work well.

If you plan to bury someone in only a shroud, do heed my warning above: Place some sort of board under the body for lowering into the grave. A few ropes make an awkward support for a floppy human bundle.

If you would like to design your own burial shroud, follow the simple instructions below.

Tip: If your green burial isn’t on private property, be sure to check with your chosen cemetery about the type of container you’re planning to use. Cemeteries have the right to decide what they will allow to be buried on their property.

How to Make a Green Burial Shroud

A shroud can be simple or elaborate, a single piece of material or a hand-sewn masterpiece. Most families need some sort of shroud fairly quickly after a death has occurred. Therefore, hiring a last-minute shroud maker or seamstress isn’t always feasible. These basic instructions will give you an idea of how easy and satisfying making your own shroud can be. Find a piece of 100 percent biodegradable fabric, such as natural or organic cotton, wool, linen, silk, bamboo fleece, muslin, cheesecloth, hemp, cashmere, or jute. Cut the material into a square large enough that the body can be placed on it with the head at one corner and the feet at the opposite corner, with twelve to twenty-four inches of extra fabric above the head and below the feet. Work on a clean, flat surface large enough to hold the body and with enough space around it that you and any helpers will be able to move around it as necessary. A table, a bed, or the floor can work well, although the floor can be problematic if the body is heavier. Preferably, the body will be naked, or it may be dressed in natural-fiber (biodegradable) clothing or already wrapped in a sheet. Spread out the fabric on the work surface, and position the body on top of it. (See figure 1.)

Figure 1
Illustration designed by Pashta MaryMoon and adapted for 
The Green Burial Guidebook.

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