Guide to arranging a Green Burial in California

Although green burial is now considered an eco-conscientious disposition alternative, it is essentially a return to the natural burial practice that was once the ‘norm’.  A natural burial with no chemicals, steel caskets, or concrete burial vaults.  With minimum intervention, the body is carefully buried in a simple earth-grave plot.

Why Choose a Green burial?

There are two main reasons why people are choosing green or natural burial.  Firstly, some are deciding to opt for a green burial as an environmental commitment.  A natural burial does less harm to the environment than a traditional burial or cremation.

Traditional funerals account for 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid, 20 million board feet of hardwood, and 1.6 million tons of concrete being entombed into the earth in the United States each year. [These figures are likely diminishing as the cremation rate in the U.S. is increasing.] And Cremation emits almost 700 million pounds of CO2 annually in the U.S

So, both these funeral options carry a detriment to the sustainability of our future and the planet.

A green burial eliminates harmful materials, toxins, and gases as part of the disposition process.  It returns the body to the earth in the most natural way possible.

What makes a burial green?

The basic elements of ensuring a burial are classed as green are to remove all negative environmental impacts.  This means not having the body embalmed, using only a biodegradable burial container, no use of concrete burial vaults, and protecting the natural landscape.  In some natural burial sites, it also means forgoing a typical grave marker and actively conserving the natural habitat.

What does a natural burial cost in California?

A natural burial costs less than a traditional burial as many costly items are eliminated.  No expensive casket, embalming, burial vault, or fancy headstone.  However, as demand for green burial plots is still relatively low (in the grand scheme of death care practices), prices for a green burial plot are in the region of $4,000 to $10,000 in California.

We have included some example prices from green cemeteries in California below.

The Green Movement in California

There has been a growing movement towards a more sustainable death care practice in the United States. The states on the West Coast are some of the most progressive when it comes to reimagining disposition alternatives for a greener future.

Human composting is now a legal disposition method in Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, and New York, and I am sure more states will adopt this new greener disposition technology.

Sally Shannon is a Home Funeral Guide and can be reached at (415) 903-5131 if you have any questions about conducting a home funeral in California.

Find a Green burial cemetery in California.

You can visit our Green Burial Directory for listings of all Green Burial Grounds in the United States.  Listed below is information on Green Burial Cemeteries in California.

How to find a Green Funeral Provider in California

You may have decided, or are contemplating, to choose a natural burial for yourself or a family member.  Where do you start? How do you find a suitable burial plot? And ensure you find the services of a funeral director experienced in green burial services. 

Some of the natural burial sites in California will be able to conduct burial services for you and may have a licensed funeral director on staff.  Alternatively, you can use the services of a funeral home that offers ‘green funeral’ services.

There is no legal requirement in California requiring you to employ the services of a funeral director.  The law allows you to keep the body at home or make arrangements for transportation from a medical location, hospice, or nursing home. 

However, you will be legally responsible for obtaining the death certificate.  You need to file for the death certificate with the local registrar within 8 days after the death.

You also need to obtain a Permit for Disposition from the registrar’s office in order to legally transport the deceased from the place of death to the green burial cemetery.  The cemetery will require this to receive the deceased and conduct the interment legally.  The permit costs $10.00.

You can employ the services of a funeral home or mortuary transport service to help you, but then you will incur mortuary transportation costs.

A number of funeral service providers do now offer green burial service packages.  The number of funeral homes offering these services is growing as the interest in natural burial increases. 

Although green burial is now considered an eco-conscientious disposition alternative, it is essentially a return to the natural burial practice that was once the ‘norm’.  A natural burial with no chemicals, steel caskets, or concrete burial vaults.  With minimum intervention, the body is carefully buried in a simple earth-grave plot.

LocationCemeteryInformationGreen burial plot cost (Single)Contact
San Francisco Bay AreaFernwood Cemetery & Funeral HomeGBC certified natural burial & 32-acre wildlife habitat.$10,100(415) 843-4220
NapaTulocay Cemetery & Funeral HomeCayetano Natural Burial Ground is a 2-acre section specially designed as a green burial site and is GBC certified.$5,205(707) 252-4727
San Mateo CountyPurissima CemeteryNewly established green section added. (609) 892-4429
San DiegoFallbrook Masonic CemeteryA new GBC Hybrid green section. (760) 980-0013
Joshua TreeJoshua Tree Memorial ParkNear Joshua Tree National Park. A GBC certified section is set aside for green burials.  
Lincoln   Nr. SacramentoMorgan Oaks Eternal PreserveGBC certified 160-acre wildlife preserve featuring 2 hillside gardens. (916) 625-3800
SacramentoSunset Lawn CemeteryA conventional cemetery that can accommodate a green burial.  
Santa MonicaWoodlawn CemeteryEternal Meadow is a naturalistic wildflower meadow garden protecting native wildflowers & grasses of California.$18,358(310) 458-8717
Los AngelesHillside Memorial ParkGan Eden is set aside for traditional Jewish burial. A tradition that has always been the embodiment of green burial.  
San Luis ObispoSan Luis CemeteryHybrid cemetery offering a designated area for green burials. (805) 543-7053
Goldendale, WAWhite Eagle Memorial Preserve1138 acres of wilderness with a certified conservation burial section CBG$3,250 

Arranging a Home Funeral – Services of a death doula

If you decide to conduct a Home Funeral, you may need support to guide you through the process.  A death doula or death midwife offers experienced services to help you conduct a home funeral service and care for your loved one at home.

Final Passages is a not-for-profit organization based out of California that supports families in conducting family-led home funerals.  They provide family consultations and home death care education throughout the community and have so far assisted in 150 family-directed funerals.

Sally Shannon is a Home Funeral Guide and can be reached at (415) 903-5131 if you have any questions about conducting a home funeral in California.

What kind of burial container is considered ‘green’?

Any completely biodegradable container can be used.  Certain cemeteries may have certain guidelines or restrictions on what is considered an acceptable green burial container.  Common green burial products are wicker or bamboo woven fiber caskets resembling a basket type.

Simple wood caskets can be used with no metal nails or handles.  And to be truly sustainable, no toxic glue or varnish should be used in the production of a wood casket.

Woven or wood caskets can cost between $450 to $1,800 to purchase.  Of course, building your own DIY homemade wood burial container is possible.  Especially if you (or someone you know) are handy at word-working.  It can be a great way to use reclaimed wood and to make the casket especially personal.

Cardboard containers are also widely used.  These are cheap to purchase, very lightweight and can be very easily decorated and personalized in memory of the deceased.  A cardboard coffin can usually be purchased for $150 or less.

Is cremation green?

Cremation is considered a ‘greener’ alternative to a traditional full-service funeral.  We can eliminate embalming toxins, steel caskets, concrete burial vaults, and ornate granite markers.  However, cremation does require energy to power the cremation retort and creates carbon emissions. 

A single cremation is said to be equivalent to the carbon emissions of a 500-mile car trip.  The energy used for a single cremation could heat a house in Minnesota in winter for one week.

Greener cremation alternatives are entering the disposition market.  Water cremation, a process of Alkaline hydrolysis to reduce the body with water and heat, is now available in 22 states, including California.  It is also referred to as Bio Cremation or resomation.

You can learn more about aquamation by reading our guide to Bio CremationAqua cremation costs between $1,500 to $3,500. 

It is still considered a somewhat ‘fringe’ alternative, although offering a more eco-friendly cremation option.  It has been in practice for some time as a disposition solution for pets but has met some resistance for humans.  Many seem to consider the notion of ‘dissolving’ a body more macabre than burning a body!

Choosing between cremation or natural burial

At present, cremation remains the preferred disposition option for Californians.  It is a greener alternative to a traditional burial, and after a cremation, the remains can be buried in a natural burial ground. 

Most green burial cemeteries provide options for interring or scattering cremated remains.  Cremation ashes are organic and sterile and generally pose no threat to the environment.  Although, some conservation burial areas may have ordinances governing the scattering of ashes due to managing the alkalinity of the soil.  Cremation ashes are naturally alkaline due to their high levels of calcium phosphate and sodium.

Can you carry out a natural burial on your own private land in California?

California law only permits burial in an ‘established cemetery’.  In urban areas, this means the opportunity for burial on your own land is not an option.  However, if you live rurally in California, it is possible to apply for permission to declare land as an established home burial cemetery. 

This process can take some time before you receive the legal license, so if you are considering this, you must plan ahead in plenty of time.

What does Green Burial Council GBC certified mean?

The Green Burial Council was established in 2005 by Joe Sehee as a non-profit educational organization to help advocate, lead, steward, and educate in all matters concerning green burial.  The GBC’s values and vision are to provide universal standards for sustainable death care, access to information, and certification.

The standards for certification offered by the Green Burial Council ensure that the public can trust the service levels delivered by GBC-certified providers to meet a benchmark level of standard practice.

Cemetery certification standards help us to categorize green burial sites into 3 distinct categories – Hybrid Cemetery, Natural Burial Ground, and Conservation Burial Ground.

You can read more about these categories and definitions in our Guide to Green Burial.

Natural Memorial Park ash scattering in California

Better Place Forests

Further reading:

I visited a ‘green cemetery’ in California, and it made me question everything about American funerals

A great article by Isabella Jibilian. Insider – August 5th, 2020

California just made it legal to liquefy a corpse

SFGATE – October 17th, 2017

Written by

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 15 years.