Guide to Arranging a Green Funeral in Pennsylvania

Why opt for a natural burial?

Our funeral rituals have been changing over the last decade.  There has been a distinct shift towards cremation services, and cremation now accounts for just over 57% of dispositions.  However,  we are entering an era of rising societal concern about climate change and carbon emissions.  Is it time to look to more sustainable and eco-friendly death care alternatives? Here we look at green burial in Pennsylvania.

Read on to learn more about how to arrange a green funeral in Pennsylvania, what green burial costs, how to find a green funeral service provider and locate a green cemetery, and other information about sustainable death care in Pennsylvania.

According to a 2021 Green Funerals consumer survey conducted by the Kates-Boylston Publications, 84% of Americans would consider a green funeral if offered.  As we have changed our sustainable habits and purchases in life, so it seems this commitment is beginning to extend to our concerns about a sustainable death.

A green burial can reduce your ‘final’ carbon footprint, and will cost less than a traditional funeral, as many expensive items such as a steel casket and concrete burial vault are not required. 

So, what makes a funeral ‘green’?

A green funeral is a disposition that has a more limited impact on the environment.  There are many shades of ‘green’, and even some small choices can make your final journey less detrimental to the planet.

To achieve the ‘greenest’ funeral, the body is not embalmed and is buried in an eco-friendly biodegradable container straight into the ground with no vault.  Green burial sites that seek to achieve high green standards will also adopt only eco-friendly grave markers (such as a local rock marker) and may plant shrubs or trees to help restore the natural habitat.

What does a natural burial cost?

The cost of a green funeral or natural burial may be broken into 2 elements.  The cost for a natural burial plot, and the cost for a professional green burial funeral service.  The average cost for a green burial service in Pennsylvania is between $1,750 and $4,325.  This is for the services of a funeral home to prepare the deceased for a natural burial, obtain the death certificates and permits, and transportation to a green cemetery.

Prices for a green burial plot vary by cemetery.  Typically, the average cost for a natural burial plot is $950 to $3,000*.  Many cemeteries also offer the option for the natural interment of cremated remains. The average price for cremated remains burial is $450.

This means that in Pennsylvania the total minimum cost to conduct a green burial (funeral service fee + green cemetery plot cost) is likely to cost from $2,700 upwards. Taking into account funeral director’s fees and the lowest cost cemetery plot.  Or, you can make further savings by eliminating the funeral home, filing for the death certificate and burial permit, and transferring the deceased directly to a green burial cemetery.  More on this below.

How much is a green funeral service?

All states have legislation governing the licensing and trade of funeral services. There is no law in Pennsylvania that requires you to employ a funeral director to conduct a natural burial service.  It is legal to have your loved one’s body at home after they pass, use dry ice, apply for the transit and burial permits, register for the death certificate, purchase a biodegradable burial container, and transfer your loved one for interment at a green cemetery.

To employ the services of a funeral home to deliver a green funeral service, you will find there are a number of funeral service providers who offer green burials.  As mentioned above, a green funeral service can be conducted by a funeral home from $1,750, and using the services of a funeral home to assist with a natural burial is still a preferred option for many families. 

We have included below details of funeral homes in Pennsylvania that are known to offer green funeral services.

Finding a natural burial cemetery site in Pennsylvania

We have 10 green burial cemeteries listed for Pennsylvania on our Natural Burial directory.  There are 3 classifications of green burial sites as certified by the Green Burial Council (GBC).

Hybrid – where an existing traditional cemetery has a separate green burial section.

Natural Burial – a cemetery committed to natural burial and maintaining the existing landscape.

Conservation Burial – dedicated natural burial site backed by a conservation organization, where the commitment to conserving and restoring the natural habitat is paramount.

There are 2 known dedicated Natural Burial Grounds in Pennsylvania, with the rest being Hybrid green burial cemeteries.  Use our green burial directory to locate your nearest green burial location.  With the growing interest in green burial, we are also witnessing more traditional cemeteries dedicating a section over to green burial, so the availability of green burial plots is likely to keep increasing.

Pennsylvania happens to have more green burial cemetery offerings than many other states.  There are several rural township cemeteries that can cater to green burial, and of course, there is no law that stipulates a concrete burial vault is required.  This is generally just a cemetery bylaw to assist with perpetual care and maintaining the integrity of the landscape for mowing.

How to find a Green Funeral Service Provider

There are a number of funeral service providers in Pennsylvania that offer green funeral services alongside their traditional funeral service offerings.  You can use the list below of funeral homes in Pennsylvania that offer green funeral services.

Pennsylvania funeral laws for natural burial

Each state has its own funeral legislation, and although many laws are universal, some states have different ‘rules’ that may affect arranging a natural burial.  Fortunately, Pennsylvania does not require you by law to involve a licensed funeral director in carrying out final arrangements.

So, it is possible to arrange for a green burial without using the services of a funeral home.  There is no law that stipulates embalming, and it is possible to use dry ice if you wish to handle arrangements yourself.  PA law stipulates that a body must be either embalmed, refrigerated, or placed in a sealed container if the final disposition of remains will not occur within 24 hours following the death.

Can you conduct a Home Funeral in Pennsylvania?

Yes, you can conduct a home funeral. The National Home Funeral Alliance has resources to support families who choose to conduct a home funeral. The law requires the filing of the death certificate with a local registrar or vital statistics within 4 days after death, and before the burial of the deceased.  The registrar will then issue a “permit for disposal” which allows you to go ahead and inter the remains at a green burial cemetery.

Pennsylvania law does allow for a person to dedicate private land for use as a family cemetery.  The designation of land as a family cemetery must be registered with the local county clerk. The law does prohibit burials on any land that drains into a stream that supplies water to a city unless the burial site is at least one mile from the city.

More information about Home Funerals can be found at DIY Funeral Care: Family-directed Funerals.

Is Cremation a ‘greener’ funeral alternative?

Cremation has become more popular in the last decade.  Some would say it is more environmentally friendly than traditional burial – eliminating embalming toxins and steel and concrete from the death care process.  However, carbon emissions from flame cremation and the use of gas (equivalent of a 500-mile car trip) still means that there is a significant carbon footprint from a flame cremation.

Many natural burial cemeteries do offer natural burial of cremated remains. Largely as cremated remains are the body reduced to its natural organic elements.  So, it is possible to arrange a natural burial of cremated remains.

Is Aquamation, Water cremation, or Bio Cremation available in Pennsylvania?

As water cremation (Alkaline Hydrolysis) offers a much ‘greener’ cremation alternative, more states are adopting (or changing) legislation to legalize this process for the disposition of human remains. [It is legal in far more states for pet disposition].

At present, there is no law or regulations that govern aquamation in Pennsylvania.  As the public begins to demand more eco-friendly death care alternatives, we are witnessing an uptake of water cremation in more states.  However, there seem to be few states in the northeast that have yet approved aquamation.  Hopefully, the current political focus on climate change and reduction of carbon emissions may drive an agenda to explore regulating the adoption of alternative eco dispositions such as alkaline hydrolysis and natural organic reduction (NOR), otherwise known as human composting.  Read more about Aquamation as a green alternative.  Or our Guide to Human Composting: Natural Organic Reduction Explained.

At present, the only 2 states in the northeast that have aquamation are Maine and Vermont.

Vermont is also presently working on a bill to legalize human composting.

Can cremated remains be interred in a natural burial site?

Yes, many green burial cemeteries offer the option for the burial of cremated remains. The cremated remains will need to be buried in a biodegradable urn container.

What type of burial container do you need for a green burial?

There are various options for biodegradable burial containers that are accepted by green burial cemeteries. Some cemeteries may have certain restrictions on what containers are permitted, so always check with the cemetery.

Typical green burial vessels are wicker or bamboo woven caskets resembling baskets, wool, muslin, canvas, linen burial shrouds, or cardboard caskets.  Wood caskets may be accepted in some cemeteries, but usually with no metal nails or handles, and to be truly sustainable no toxic glue or varnish.

A green funeral service provider will typically carry a range of sustainable biodegradable burial container options.  Prices for a ‘green’ burial container range from $450 to $1,800.

Sometimes, families will opt to use a favorite fabric of the deceased or even a memento quilt as a burial shroud.  Blank canvas shrouds can be personalized and decorated to commemorate a loved one.

Want to learn more about green burial? Read 5 Reasons to Choose a Natural or Green Burial.

Green Funeral Service Provider Locations in PA

LocationFuneral HomeContactGreen Funeral Prices*
PhiladelphiaSlabinski Sucharski Funeral Home Inc(215) 744-2700 
PhiladelphiaMcCafferty Sweeney Slabinski Barnes Funerals & Cremations(215) 333-0500 
PhiladelphiaKhadijah Alderman Funeral Service(215) 225-6600 
PittsburghPatrick T. Lanigan Funeral Home & Crematory(412) 824-8800From $3,627
PittsburghNatural Funeral Company(412) 716-4435From $1,865
PittsburghThomas M. Smith Funeral Home & Crematory(412) 828-5700From $1,750
PittsburghJohn F. Slater Funeral Home(412) 881-4100 
Forest HillsWolfe Memorial LLC(412) 731-5001From $2,800
AllentownBachman Kulik & Reinsmith Funeral Homes(610) 432-4128 
ReadingJohn P. Feeney Funeral Home Inc(610) 372-4160From $3,995
ManheimSimple Funerals Inc(717) 664-1500From $3,190
MillersvilleCharles F. Snyder Funeral Home & Crematory(717) 393-9661 
MorrisvilleJ. Allen Hooper Funeral Chapel & Cremation Services(215) 295-7725From $3,235
WilliamsportManeval Allen Redmond Cremation & Funeral Home(570) 322-3204 
AmbridgeBohn-Matich Funeral Home(724) 266-2000 
Elmwood CitySamuel Teolis Funeral Home & Crematory(724) 758-3222 

*Prices quoted are for a basic green burial service & do not include a burial container.

Green Burial Council (GBC) – certified green standards

The Green Burial Council was established in 2005 as a non-profit educational organization to help steward, educate, and establish universal standards in sustainable death care practices.

The GBC provides certification for green burial cemeteries to ensure the public can have assurances of the standards achieved and maintained by a GBC-certified provider.

GBC certification falls into 3 main categories:

Hybrid cemetery, Natural Burial Ground, and Conservation Burial Ground.

You can read more about each of these certifications and what they mean on our Guide to Green Burial.

If you have any further questions about green burial services in Pennsylvania, contact us for more information.

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 10 years.