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.

| August 2019

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.)

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

Fold the extra material below the feet up onto the legs. Next, fold the extra material above the head down toward the chest. Make sure there is a little slack. (See figure 2.)

burial-shroud
Figure 2
Illustration designed by Pashta MaryMoon and adapted for 
The Green Burial Guidebook.

Wrap the extra fabric from one side across the body, and tuck it underneath. Do the same with the extra fabric from the other side, and tuck that piece completely under the shroud. The body should appear cocoon-like and cozy. (See figure 3.)

burial-shroud
Figure 3
Illustration designed by Pashta MaryMoon and adapted for 
The Green Burial Guidebook.

If you have extra material left over, cut it into strips long enough to tie around the shroud. If not, use rope, cotton ties, or any other natural textile that can be used as straps. Start with the feet: securely tie a strap around the lower calves/ankles, making sure all the material is still tucked in and smooth. Move up to the waist area and slide a strap under the body and tie it firmly in the front. The tie should go over the hands/wrists to secure the arms into place. Finally, when you feel ready, tightly tuck the flap over the face and tie the strap firmly around the neck. (See figure 4.)

burial-shroud
Figure 4
Illustration designed by Pashta MaryMoon and adapted for 
The Green Burial Guidebook.

Other Green Burial Containers

Cardboard and Fiberboard Containers

A very modest, low-priced option for a green burial container is fiberboard or cardboard. Both materials are strong enough to hold a body and are rather eco-friendly. These are used mainly for cremations, but they will work for a burial as long as there is a board underneath to keep the container rigid while lowering into the grave.

Since these can look utilitarian, family and friends could be encouraged to decorate them using toxic-free colored markers, nonplastic stickers, family photos, and pictures of their loved one’s favorite things and places. I have often seen them covered in wildflowers and boughs from the woods. Families will also line the casket with a soft down comforter or blanket and maybe a pure cotton pillow. If the deceased isn’t a fan of flowers, instead of sprinkling the cardboard box with petals, have everyone write farewell messages on sticky notes and place them on the box. I have seen this done, and it was quite lovely!



Infinity Burial Suits and Shrouds

The company Coeio produces green burial items that are unlike anything else on the market. For instance, the Infinity Burial Suit and the Infinity Burial Shroud are special clothing infused full of mushroom spores and fungi. The spores speed decomposition, remediate toxins, spur plant growth, and improve soil quality, thus returning your body to the earth and the ongoing cycle of life without harming the ecosystem. Of course, this organic technology must be used on its own, without any sort of casket, vault, or traditional burial container. According to the product’s website, the Infinity Burial Suit “cleanses the body and the soil of toxins that would otherwise seep into the environment.” However, I’m not sure our bodies contain so much toxic gunk that we leave poisonous carcasses.

Ecopods

Ecopods are a natural burial chest that was designed by English midwife Hazel Selina. The “eco” part of the name refers to its composition — it’s made from both recycled newspapers and handmade mulberry paper, and is thus biodegradable. And the “pod” part … well, it looks like a giant seed pod. Ecopods are offered in a range of colors, including red with an Aztec sun design, but as of publication, they were temporarily out of production. The company is currently exploring different production options and hoping to partner with the Natural Burial Company in Eugene, Oregon.

Also from The Green Burial Guidebook:

green-burial-guidebookFuneral expenses in the United States average more than $10,000. And every year conventional funerals bury millions of tons of wood, concrete, and metals, as well as millions of gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid. There is a better way, and Elizabeth Fournier, affectionately dubbed the “Green Reaper,” walks you through it, step-by-step in her book, The Green Burial Guidebook. She provides comprehensive and compassionate guidance, covering everything from green burial planning and home funeral basics to legal guidelines and outside-the-box options, such as burials in your own backyard. Fournier points the way to green burial practices that consider both the environmental well-being of the planet and the economic well-being of loved ones. In the above excerpt from the book, Elizabeth shares some of the many green options we have for shrouding a loved one’s body, before burial.

Excerpted from the book The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial. Copyright ©2018 by Elizabeth Fournier. Printed with permission from New World Library. 






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