Reader question: What are the options in France for an eco-friendly funeral that does not involve a standard burial or cremation?
Under French law the only legal options for the disposal of a body is burial or cremation.
However, both practices are polluting. With a burial, the body is injected with products to conserve it, which later seep into the ground.
During a cremation the body burns for around one-and-a-half hours, releasing CO2.
This has led to a growing number of people around the world searching for more eco-friendly alternatives.
Unfortunately in France, due to strict laws, the movement has been slow to catch on.
The idea of a green funeral (obsèques écologiques), where for example a person is buried in open ground with a tree planted on top, is not allowed in France.
However there are some places which offer similar concepts.
For example, Arbres de Mémoire near Angers (Maine-et-Loire) allows for the person’s ashes to be dispersed among the roots of a special tree planted for them (with a choice of tree species).
A Spanish brand called 'urne Bios' offers a biodegradable urn with a tree seed in it, so a tree grows directly out of the place where you bury it.
It states that options in France include burying it on council-owned land, if you ask permission from the mairie, or in a designated cimetière naturel or bois funéraire.
It suggests an internet search to see if one is available locally, citing Arbes de Mémoire as well as other examples such as the cimetière natural de Souché in Niort and the forêt cimetière d’Arbas in Haut-Garonne.
This option is more ecological in the sense that a tree is grown but the body must still be cremated.
The mairie of Niort opened its ‘natural’ cemetery a few years ago, where there are trees and grass instead of rows of tombs. You can scatter the ashes, or bury a biodegradable urn or a coffin. No artificial flowers are allowed. It won a ‘best local initiative’ award from the Senate.
Funeral firms are also starting to offer 'greener' options such as a cardboard coffin (cercueil en carton) or other models of coffin or urn that contain fewer harmful substances and
biodegrade more quickly than a traditional coffin.
One large funeral chain offers 'cercueils nature', said to be treated with fewer chemicals than usual.
According to Advitam, a firm of Paris undertakers offering coffins made out of recycled wood, the models are also cheaper than traditional coffins and use much less wood.
A tombe végétalisée – a grave plot planted out with plants like a mini garden – rather than the traditional austere appearance is another idea.
You may like to investigate the options in your area and speak to funeral directors about your wishes for a funeral that respects the environment.
For more about funerals in France, see our help guide to Inheritance Law and Wills in France, (priced €14.50) which has a chapter on procedures after a death.