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”What is a Natural Burial?” An Interview with StoneMor’s Kelly Hulata

Natural burials (sometimes mistakenly referred to as “green burials”) are gaining popularity as a non-traditional form of memorialization. One reason is because natural burials are much more eco-friendly than a traditional burial.

With increased interest comes increased questions around natural burials. I spoke with Kelly Hulata, regional VP of sales for BurialPlanning.com in the Midwestern United States. Kelly provides some great insight into natural burials – including the basics of a natural burial and the benefits of pre-planning a natural burial versus a traditional one.

Read our interview below, and if you would like to learn more about pre-planning a natural burial, please schedule a no-obligation appointment today.

In simplest terms, what is a natural burial?

A natural burial is simply a natural alternative to traditional burial. There is no need for embalming, no need for a casket, and no need for a burial vault. Instead of being buried in a casket, the remains go directly into the earth. Although bodies are sometimes covered in shrouds or buried in biodegradable caskets.

Beyond not using a casket or embalming fluid, how else does a natural burial specifically differ from a traditional burial?

No heavy equipment goes over grave sites. No machinery. That means that all the graves are dug by hand. In an Illinois cemetery where we offer natural burial options, the graves are laid out among paths in the woods.

You already mentioned that burial vaults are not used, but what about a headstone?

A headstone may still be used, but they are quite different than traditional headstones. The reason being is that a traditional headstone is generally not eco-friendly. Instead, a natural burial headstone is more likely something like a natural boulder with a bronze plaque for the inscription, or even the inscription engraved right into boulder.

The big question on a lot of people’s minds is how the price differs from a traditional funeral. Is the price drastically different for a natural burial?

Actually, there isn’t a huge difference in price between a natural and traditional burial. But that’s not what really drives people to go natural. It’s an important factor, but usually not the deciding factor. On the cemetery side prices are roughly comparable. Although opening and closing are more expensive since the grave is hand-dug, it balances out since a burial vault is not used. It could potentially be less expensive on the funeral home side as there is no embalming.

On average, what does a natural burial cost?

The cost of a natural burial is roughly $5,500* for everything.

*Please note that this price is an estimate based on some cemeteries in the Illinois area, and is not necessarily the final price of a natural burial.

What type of people decide to go with a natural burial?

A natural burial allows the deceased to preserve the Earth as much as possible. This benefit is very appealing. Some also choose a natural burial because of their beliefs. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen more interest in natural burials from Baby Boomers. But interestingly, it’s not for the previously mentioned reasons. Many Boomers want something different than what their parents had for their burials. It’s not strictly about being eco-friendly, just about being different.

Because of these differences, what kind of rules and regulations (if any) are there with a natural burial compared to a traditional burial?

The rules and regulations for traditional and natural burial sections can differ depending on the cemetery. It is important to consult with the cemetery.

What about other options? Are there different burial options for those interested in a natural burial? Can they be personalized the same way a traditional burial would be?

Actually, there are some forms of personalitzation you can do with a natural burial that isn’t allowed with traditional. For instance, you are allowed to grow flowers and plants on the gravesite. You can add a memorial bench there if you like. You simply have many more decorative options with a natural burial that you can’t do with a traditional burial!

You mentioned that a natural burial doesn’t involve embalming, but I thought embalming was required by law?

Embalming is not required by law. However, the question of whether to embalm or not is best consulted with a licensed funeral director.

If I chose a natural burial, can I also be cremated?

Yes, you can be cremated. Many natural burials allow for cremation.

Okay, let’s say I’m convinced that a natural burial is right for me. How can I arrange a natural burial?

The best thing to do is contact the cemetery directly. They’ll be able to provide you with the information you need. Two examples of cemeteries in my area that offer natural burials include Windridge Memorial Park and Willow Lawn Memorial Park.

What is the process like for someone who decides to pre-plan his or her natural burial?

The process is the same as a traditional burial. The day of service might be slightly different if you opt for just the shroud. Other than that it’s the same – you’ll need to pick your location, pick any elements you want like a boulder with an inscription, and then arrange it now so that it’s all taken care of.

As I understand it, a natural burial is actually different than a green burial. What is the difference between a green burial versus a natural burial? 

A green cemetery plants specific vegetation, and doesn’t use chemicals to kill weeds. A natural burial refers only to the actual burial process. So a natural burial can take place in a non-green cemetery. Other factors that make a cemetery not green are if some of the graves have vaults or if embalming fluid is used for some of the remains. However, some traditional cemeteries do feature green burial certified sections.

Want to learn more about pre-planning a natural burial, or want to find a cemetery in your area? Search the BurialPlanning.com cemetery directory now, or order your own free pre-planning kit.