About Natural Burial

What is natural burial?

In natural burial, aka green burial, the dead are wrapped in a shroud or biodegradable casket and placed directly into the ground, without the use of embalming fluids or a concrete vault. You can learn more about natural burial here.

How is natural burial different from a traditional burial?

In a traditional burial, the body is first preserved with highly toxic embalming fluid, placed in a casket made from steel and other non-biodegradable materials, then sealed in a concrete or plastic vault before being buried. You can learn more about the differences between natural and traditional burial here.

Is natural burial cheaper than traditional burial?

Some costs associated with natural burial are much less than traditional burial–there are no expensive caskets or embalming, for example.  Because natural burial plots are typically larger than regular plots, however, the total cost ends up being about the same.

How long does a body take to decompose?

Much of the data regarding decomposition came from experiments on bodies in open air.  In that setting, a body is reduced to skeletal remains within 65 days.  It is estimated that interring a body slows the process down, and likely takes about 4 times longer.  If the body is embalmed and placed within a vacuum-sealed casket, the process takes even longer.

Won't animals try to dig up bodies in a natural cemetery?

Natural graves are approximately 3.5 feet deep.  24 inches of soil is enough to provide a smell barrier, such that the body is not noticeable to animals traveling above.

Won't bodies pollute the water table?

At only 3.5 feet deep, there is no danger of affecting the water table, which is typically 20 feet or more below that.  There are also setback requirements from other bodies of water, such as rivers and lakes, for the same reason.

Do drugs or diseases in the body pose an environmental or health risk?

Soil creates a natural filter and binds to organic chemicals, keeping them in place, and microorganisms break these chemicals down further.  Natural burial is also a sufficient barrier for disease.

Can't I just be buried on my own land?

In Washington state, unfortunately the answer is no.  Washington is one of only a few states that does not allow burial on private land; however, as of January 2023, HB1037, which would allow for family burial grounds, has passed the House.

Doesn't the law require embalming and a coffin?

No. Washington state law requires neither, but does require that a body be cremated or interred within 3 days of death. If buried, a “dignified covering” must be used, which includes things like quilts, shrouds, baskets, or simple caskets.

About Natural Burial Grounds

Where are the natural burial grounds in Washington State?

We have a list of natural burial options in Washington State. You can also use the links above to explore other green options.

How big is a natural burial plot?

Natural burial plots are typically larger than standard burial plots, and are about about 15-20 feet per side. Depending on the terrain, a natural burial ground may accommodate about 50 – 500 people per acre.

How are graves marked?

Plot corners are recorded via GPS. Individual markers may include anything from nothing at all to native plantings to a small natural stone with an engraved name.

Do burial plots get re-used?

Natural burial cemeteries do not typically re-use plots, but as the population grows and available land dwindles, this might become a more common option.

Aren't you worried about graves caving in?

Natural burial sites are mounded to allow for some settling of soil over time.  Because natural burial grounds are typically maintained with native vegetation rather than green lawns, minor variations in surface level are not cause for concern.  Additional soil can be added to the grave, especially during the first year or two after burial, as the ground stabilizes.

Can I be buried with my loved one? How about my pet?

Although you may be buried alongside a loved one, Washington law requires that animal remains be kept separate from human remains.  Some natural burial grounds circumvent this by burying pets along the perimeter of the property.  Those who wish to be interred near their pets can purchase a plot along the edge of the burial ground.

What if I want to be cremated? Can I be scattered at a natural burial ground?

Yes, most natural burial grounds allow for this.

How do people get buried in winter?

Many natural burial grounds will dig graves to be held in reserve for winter, covering them to keep them snow-free. Because of this, a person who dies in winter may end up being interred in a different plot than the one they originally purchased.

About Cascades Natural Burial

Where can I be buried naturally in the Methow?

Currently, no cemeteries in the Methow allow for a fully natural burial. You can learn how to make a traditional burial greener, or contact us and we can help you explore your options.

How can I be part of your organization?

Learn how you can help here.

If I donate to you, is it tax-deductible?

We are in the process of partnering with or establishing a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so donations of either money or land will soon be tax-deductible.