Every year, about 2.7 million Americans pass away, amounting to almost $19 billion a year in funeral revenue. Meanwhile, a 2012 study estimated that protecting and managing the environment of every threatened species in the world comes out to only $3.4 billion a year.
Opting for a natural burial is not only better for the environment, but could also help raise money for these conservation efforts, according to Matthew Holden from the University of Queensland, Australia.
On average, a traditional burial—including purchasing the coffin, embalming, and other ceremonial expenses—costs about $7,000. Holden calculated that if all 1.2 million Americans who had their remains embalmed did a natural burial, then it would easily raise $3.8 billion in revenue for conservation.
In a natural burial, bodies are interred not in marked graveyards, but in biodegradable containers on areas of protected land. These containers are a more environmentally-conscious alternative to embalming chemicals and coffin materials that contaminate the soil.
South Carolina’s Ramsey Creek Preserve is a 28-hectare natural burial site that also protects the livelihood of coyotes, black bears, and birds. There, bodies are buried in the forest and covered with various types of plants. There are only a few hundreds of sites like Ramsey Creek in existence in the U.S., U.K., and Australia.
But the interest in natural burials seems to be growing. Here’s Alice Klein reporting for New Scientist:
Conservation burials will become more popular, says Holden. “People are looking to create some sort of tangible legacy, which is why we spend all this money on fancy coffins and tombstones,” he says. “Maybe we can use this money to provide a conservation legacy instead.” That could provide solace for the bereaved.
Not all threatened species may benefit from these types of burials, but the hypothetical revenue they could raise may also increase biodiversity by providing a better habitat for native wildlife.