by Josh Slocum
Mention green burial and people’s ears perk up. It’s an appealing idea to people who don’t see why the disposition of their mortal remains has to involve unnecessary merchandise, chemicals, or energy-intensive burial practices. When you choose thoughtfully, you can have a greener burial that’s easier on the environment and sometimes, on your wallet. It helps to think it through.
What does green burial mean? If your aim is to reduce unnecessary purchases and energy use, it makes your choice easier.
While most conventional cemeteries require a “box for the box” to keep the ground level
over time, it’s worth asking if you can skip this option. Small, rural cemeteries are
often more agreeable to this request. Plus, as more people request vault-free burials, more cemeteries will try to meet this market demand. Why not approach your town or city-owned cemetery and request vault-free burial, or a section to be set aside for this purpose?
Specifically, green cemeteries don’t allow embalming, non-biodegradable coffins, or vaults. Many of these burial grounds strive to keep the land as close to its natural state as possible, providing space for native plants and wildlife to flourish. Visit www.nhfuneral.org’s Green Burial Cemeteries in the US and Canada for a continuously. updated list of over 300 green cemeteries in the US.
Unfortunately, there aren’t yet enough fully green options in the conventional cemeteries that most people will end up using. American death and burial practices change slowly. Conventional cemeteries are still wedded to the notion of a flat, landscaped “lawn”, kept free of depressions in the ground by concrete vaults that support the earth (the casket will eventually collapse).
The 20th century “memorial park” model is still dominant. I think of these cemeteries as Levittowns for the dead with their rows of identical, ground-flush markers lined up on a perfectly flat lawn. With growing consumer demand for green burials, conventional cemeteries are slowly being persuaded to rethink their model.
The good news is you don’t need to choose a green-only cemetery to have a more natural burial. While most conventional cemeteries require at least a concrete grave liner, you can still introduce more eco-friendly practices like:
A last word on green options—think carefully in the decisions and purchases you make with an eco-friendly purpose in mind. Consider the journey made by each product we buy and think critically about the true eco-friendly footprint of it." The greenest casket you can find is the one you don’t buy, after all.
Joshua Slocum joined the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) staff in 2002 and became executive director in 2003. He has appeared as an expert commentator on funeral issues in national media such as 60 Minutes and The New York Times. On behalf of FCA’s nationwide federation of consumer information groups, Slocum has testified before Congress and helped to draft federal and state statutes protecting funeral consumers. for more info, go to www.funerals.org
Slocum co-wrote with Lisa Carlson, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death (2011, Upper Access Publishers). Final Rights combines a journalistic investigation of the funeral industry and how consumers navigate it with practical information on how to avoid funeral fraud and financial exploitation.
Funeral Consumers Alliance’s recent public policy work in conjunction with the Consumer Federation of America produced several national surveys of funeral home price disclosure policies, and led to the organizations petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to require funeral businesses to disclose their prices online.
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