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Eco Conscious Funerals

By Paige Herman Axel
Posted On Jul 22, 2014

Greener Pastures

If you’re ready to look at the realities of funeral costs consider green burials, which integrate eco consciousness and dollar sense.

BY Linda Childers PHOTOGRAPH by Sam Kaplan STYLED by Lauren Shields

We’ve heard it before: Nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes. (And perhaps a little trouble.) While our inevitable demise is a topic the average person would rather not think about, a good many individuals are planning ahead to ensure their funeral encompasses the same eco-friendly values they embraced in life.

Joe Sehee, founder of the Green Burial Council, says that green or natural burial services allow a more sustainable and personalized option to traditional internment, and support the Earth’s ecosystem, as opposed to damaging it as traditional methods do. “There are three end-of-life options available to families today— traditional burials, cremations, or a green burial,” Sehee says. “Green or natural burials are enjoying a resurgence. We now have over 400 providers who are members of the Green Burial Council.”

Sehee says that individuals who choose green burials appreciate that it allows them to get “in sync with the natural process of death.” A natural burial involves wrapping an un-embalmed body in a shroud or biodegradable container and placing them in a shallow grave about 3½ feet deep, where the microbe-rich soils that exist naturally break down the body.

The grave is marked with a living object, such as a tree or wildflowers, rather than a headstone. “A natural burial in a green cemetery is an affordable alternative to cremation,” Sehee says. “Families don’t have to incur the cost of caskets, embalming, or burial vaults. And green burials do not contribute pollutants to the atmosphere.” Sehee notes that green cemeteries are a growing trend in states such as California, Florida, Michigan, New York, South Carolina, and Texas.

Meanwhile, many traditional cemeteries are becoming “hybrid” cemeteries, devoting areas of their land to green burials that won’t require remains to be embalmed or vaults to be used.

“Green cemeteries operate as naturepreserves with an educational component, focused on providing sustainable end-of-life choices and burial practices,” Sehee adds.

Foxfield Preserve in Wilmot, OH, is a green cemetery. Sixty miles south of Cleveland, it’s part of the Wilderness Center—a 629-acre nonprofit naturepreserve featuring trails, meadows, and hillsides. “Green burials offer people the chance to be part of a natural cycle,” Sehee says. “It’s a true dust-to-dust burial that allows families to hold a more intimate graveside service.”

A SWEETER BURY

Here’s how natural practices compare to traditional funerals.

– Eco-Friendly vs. Standard Funeral: According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a funeral in 2012 was $7,045, which includes embalming, use of a hearse, a metal casket, use of facility for viewing, and more.

If a vault is included—typically required of a cemetery— the median cost rises to $8,343. A “green funeral” offered by Autumn Green Funeral Home in Alfred, ME, costs $3,475 and includes bathing and grooming of remains (embalming is not required by law) and a wooden casket.

– Green Casket vs. Traditional Metal: At Nature’s Casket in Longmont, CO, caskets are made from biodegradable, sustainably harvested blue-stained pine,and feature natural rope handles. (There will be zero carbon footprint in your afterlife.) And at a cost of $635 (medium) to $710 (large), as opposed to approximately $2,400 for a metal casket, you won’t break your (or your loved ones’) bank.

– Traditional Burial vs. Cremation vs. Green Burial: Green cremations require no harmful chemicals like those used in the embalming process. Cremation, followed by a scattering of ashes, is also more eco-friendly since no casket or burial plot is required.

Cremation costs typically run between $600 and $3,000, which are significantly lower than the traditional funeral costs ($8,343), not including an additional cost of approximately $1,500 for a headstone.

A green burial at Pine Forest Memorial Gardens, a green cemetery in Wake Forest, NC, starts at $2,985 and includes the grave space, perpetual care, and the memorial rock. For individuals who choose cremation, the traditional choices have been urns, which typically range from $80–$1,000, or require the scattering of ashes. Now, Eternal Reefs in Decatur, GA, offers a permanent environmental living legacy. Their reefs are made from 100 percent natural cast concrete that includes cremated remains. Eternal Reefs create new marine habitats for fish and other forms of sea life, and cost between $3,995–$6,995, depending on the size.

PREPARING FOR A GREEN BURIAL

For more information on green burials, commonly asked questions, and green providers around the country, visit greenburialcouncil.org. The Conversation Project encourages people to talk about their end-of-life care wishes with their loved ones. Their free online starter kit can help you begin a conversation with your family and also with your physician. Visit theconversationproject.org.