Going Vault-Free - Request "no liner" in your cemetery plot

Claimed by Flowers


Visit the NATURAL END MAP to find cemeteries that offer vault free burial and have signed the Natural End Pledge. http://www.naturalendmap.com

We WANT our coffins to break down...The Natural Burial Company sells biodegradable caskets and urns suitable for liner or vault-free earth burial because they decompose over time. Our coffins last as long as you need them, and return to the soil once you don't.

However, many cemeteries require you buy vauts, grave liners or "outer burial containers"  - additional boxes made of cement, plastic, or metal to store your casket in once it's buried. These liners  prevent or forestall decomposition and keep your body from returning naturally to the Earth. 

Grave Liners are not required by health and safety laws. Instead, these rules are private cemetery policy and may be changed.

Cemeteries began to require vaults when fuel-intensive industrial-style landscape maintenance techniques became popular. They grew dependent on tractors and heavy equipment to mow, dig and apply chemical compounds. This machinery compacts the soil and crushes graves and caskets that aren't protected by outer burial containers.

Since these containers make decomposition almost impossible, we are requesting that cemeteries begin to implement alternative landscaping techniques that lessen their dependence on mowing, or purchase lighter-weight machinery that does not compact the soil, uses less fuel, and will not cause a properly maintained natural grave to collapse. To help with this transition, the Natural Burial Company offers consulting through Ken West via our CONSULTING GROUP.

Natural graves slowly settle over timeThe goal in natural burial is to fully return to the soil, not remain separated from it and vaults and liners do not work here. In sustainably managed cemeteries, heavy mowing equipment does NOT pass regularly over the grave. The biodegradable coffin collapses naturally with rain and time, as it's designed to.  Natural graves sink slightly and are then filled by hand a couple of times over a period of 6-18 months until the soil is stable. When properly constructed and maintained, most natural graves stop sinking after 1-2 years.

Natural landscapes do not need constant trimming, weeding, mowing, herbiciding, pesticiding, and de-mossing in perpetuity. Because there is less money spent on natural landscaping in the long run, grave maintenance can be inexpensive AND habitat can be enhanced at the same time.

And in the most progressive cemeteries that offer natural burial, bodies return completely to the earth and the grave spaces are then reused in a specified number of years, satisfying both the need to return to the earth naturally and keep the land free for future generations.

Find a Local Cemetery and ask if they permit burials without a vault or liner  Once you're ready to "look for greener pastures" to plant yourself in, you may need to do a little research to find a cemetery that will provide you with a vault-free burial. But they're out there, in historic and old churchyard cemeteries, run by volunteers who would love to get more than 5 burials a year. Go introduce yourself -- pull a weed or two; think of it as one more activist adventure, and something you can work on til you die!

LivingchurchyardA lot of cemeteries - especially the old pioneer cemeteries, and those run by non-profit organizations like the Elks, the Oddfellows, the Masons, or small churches - still permit liner-free burial; that's "how it was done in the old days" and a number of them still feel they can do it today, especially when they learn that people might actually WANT them again.

Municipal cemeteries tend to be responsive to their communities, and a number of cities across the US have announced that they'll start offering natural options along with the conventional ones.

Some cemeteries convert to natural burial gradually, with wildflower areas left to grow  unmowed and the elimination of vaults becoming their first steps to a low-maintenance, habitat enhancing "Living Cemetery." And, as the picture below shows, it's ok to lighten up with the lawnmower (see the back area with its wildflower covered gravestones?) - nature can take it...

Remember - "NATURAL BURIAL" begins with a biodegradable container and just gets better from there.

How to pick a natural funeral service provider

There are a number of ways to identify a good natural funeral service provider. Many funeral homes offer a number of these services already. The lists below can help you seek out what you need and encourage professionals in your community to take the Natural Step.


Lisa Carlson of the Funeral Ethics Organization has posted these recommendations on the FEO website here. The ones included in the CURRENT NATURAL END PLEDGE are underlined and in bold

  • # Does the funeral home offer the option of body preparation without embalming (setting features and cleansing only)—as an option to be selected by the family, NOT as a requirement?
  • # Does the funeral home offer the opportunity for viewing without embalming—private family viewing at a minimum?
  • # Does the funeral home offer some sort of viewing for a larger group after refrigeration perhaps or within a state's mandated time-line?
  • # Does the funeral home have biodegradable caskets included on the casket price list?
  • # Among the biodegradable caskets, are there low-cost options (to serve all income levels)?
  • # Is at least one of the biodegradable caskets locally made?
  • # Does the funeral home offer burial shrouds made of natural material?
  • # Does the funeral home offer an economical van for body transport rather than requiring the use of a hearse?
  • # Does the funeral home provide information on local cemeteries that permit green burials?
  • # Is the price for a green option a lot more expensive than the price for an Immediate Burial?
  • # If so, what additional goods and services are included? Are those goods and services the family is likely to want?
  • # Are package prices being offered for "green" options that do not allow a family to reduce costs by declining certain services or merchandise they might not want?
  • # How are the prices at this funeral home compared to the prices at other funeral homes in a 35-mile radius if cost is a concern to the choices a family will make?
  • # If the family needs a service that requires embalming such as out-of-the-country shipping, is the funeral home staff trained in using and have on hand non-formaldehyde, non-toxic chemicals?
  • # Does the funeral home have a website that includes itemized pricing—both the general price list (GPL) and casket price list (CPL)— so the family doesn't have to drive to get the needed information, saving printed paper as well?



Ken West, founder of the UK natural burial movement, drew up a document called the Charter for the Bereaved, and lobbied to put this into general circulation among UK funeral professionals and cemeteries in 1996. We think the majority of its provisions are applicable over here and include its Environmental provisions below.

Every Charter member shall minimise the impact of bereavement upon the environment. This should encourage the greater use of earth friendly materials and environmentally friendly practices, particularly in:


  • Ensuring the use of suitable coffins and containers used for burial or cremation. The use of plastics should be minimised with natural materials encouraged wherever possible. Zinc or lead lined coffins cannot be cremated.
  • Employing the use of the most environmentally friendly materials in the maintenance of grounds
  • Recycling of green waste from grounds maintenance works
  • Recycling, where law permits, of any other material for which permission of the applicant for cremation or burial has been obtained


  • Ensuring the most effective use of land for burial.
  • Where possible providing or partnering a provider of woodland burial
  • The use of suitable ground for burial so that water borne pollution shall not occur


  • Emissions to air are of great concern to the public. All Charter members should actively seek to reduce emissions to the air by the provision of suitable abatement equipment at the earliest possible time.
  • Promoting the most effective use of energy within the crematorium. This could include consideration of heat exchange units to capture energy that is currently wasted.
  • Ensuring the optimum usage of crematorium plant and equipment including longer operational hours.
  • Advising that clothing the deceased in clothes made of natural fibre/materials is acceptable whereas plastic, nylon and other synthetic materials are not acceptable due to the impact on the environment via emissions.