What seems like just a piece of our primitive history or sounds like something out of a creepy thriller novel, burying a body in the backyard is now actually quite the trendy thing to do. That is, if you are looking for an eco-friendly and/or less costly alternative to the traditional American funeral.
Whether referred to as green burials, natural burials or eco-friendly burials, funeral directors, environmentalists and those contemplating end-of-life plans are considering this a viable option.
Good for the Environment
How are green burials different?
Think about when you bury a beloved family pet under a tree in the backyard!
–They exclude the use of embalming fluids
–Metal caskets and concrete vaults are not used
–Grave is market by rocks or wild flowers
–Graves are shallower
On a recent Fresh Air interview on NPR, Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters: Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial told host Terry Gross that the amount of wood from coffins located in a ten-acre cemetery is enough to build 40 houses and that there is enough concrete to build swimming pools for all of them. He was eluding to the wastefulness of those materials.
Harris also adds that without the embalming fluid, there is no chance of groundwater pollution. Funerls.org states that during the embalming process, some toxic fluids could be released into the sewer system. Furthering pollution he says are the emissions from backhoes, lawnmowers and tree pruners, as well as pesticides getting into ground water.
Another way green burials can be positive is that if simple wooden coffins are used, local artisans could be supported as opposed to long-distance hauling in of caskets from out-of-state manufacturers-eliminating some air pollution. If people are worried about the presentation of a wooden coffin at a wake, funerals.org suggests draping velvet over the casket.
Great Britain has over 200 green woodland burial locations. The first of its kind in the United States is Ramsey Creek Preserve near Westminster, S.C., run by doctor Billy Campbell. The USA Today reported that Campbell wants to replicate his 32-acre prototype across the nation. He says these green burial grounds, or “land conservation tools” can preserve nature through death.
Burials at Ramsey and similar places involve non-embalmed bodies places in biodegradable caskets made of cardboard, wood, wicker or even bamboo. Markers must be of flat stone. Burials here cost about $2500, and 25% of that is devoted to maintaining the natural grounds. Many people who choose this option also host the wake/funeral at their home.
While on the surface cemeteries look green and attractive, environmentalists refer to them as landfills of chemicals and cement. Advocates of green burials in fact want to do away with “tomb-studded cemeteries.”
Instead, green burial grounds are usually in woodland areas, and as stated above, sans the tombstones. Most of these grounds are public and open to hikers. When folks visit deceased loved ones, they can also enjoy nature. Supporter of this also note that green burial grounds will protect forests from being chopped down.
In a USA Today article, couple Norma Wilcox and Frank Harlan plan to leave the earth as peacefully as they came, with a home funeral and green burial.
“We want our friends and family to be able to grieve in a personal setting, and we don’t want to pollute,” she told the paper. She added that her grandfather’s funeral in the 50s was at his farmhouse.
The green burial grounds have yet to sweep the nation, but folks can still opt for the eco-friendly caskets, the wakes at home, and flat markers. If someone still wants a totally natural burial, there is the option of the backyard-but that has limitations. Home burials are usually prohibited in urban settings.
Rural areas may be more lenient. Permits are almost always certain, and in some cases, special property-usage variances may be required. That could be costly-but can create a family cemetery to be used for generations to come. The downside is that in today’s transient society, a cemetery could be left on a stranger’s property and also decrease value of land.
Good for the Wallet
You can save a little green going green. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average American funeral is $5180. However, many spend upwards of that on just the casket meaning a funeral can cost about $10,000.
Here is a sampling of average costs, according to the Federal Trade Commission:
Professional Services- $1650
(embalming, funeral home staff, etc.)
(visitation room, preparation room, reception room, chapel)
(casket, vault, prayer cards, temporary grave marker)
Cash disbursements- $1828
(flowers, cemetery plot, obituary, death certificate, honorariums, headstone)
Green funerals average about $2500. The biggest price difference comes by way of the casket. Biodegradable coffins are often made of recycled cardboard or are simple wooden boxes that start around $300.
However-there are what are called eco-pods, which can cost about $3000.
So, green burials can be environmentally friendly, more personal and less expensive. As you think about end-of-life, it may be an option worth considering.
(To hear the Fresh Air interview that inspired this AC story, visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6938735)