We spend our lives trying to get back to our Earthly roots, living simpler and off the land, recycling when we can, and doing as little damage to the world around us as possible. We came into this life naked and with no material trappings weighing us down. Now a movement is promoting leaving the same way… consider it the ultimate in “going” green.
It’s called “green burial” and while it might just be the next fad in checking out of this life, it has some benefits for anyone looking to live (and die) frugally, or for someone looking to go out with as little impact on our beloved land as possible.
The aspects are simple: no embalming, no casket if possible (or an earth-friendly biodegradable box if required by the state), a simple marker, a tremendous cost-savings versus a traditional funeral and burial.
According to the Arizona-based Green Burial Council, the organization taking the lead on regulating green burials in the United States, the traditional funeral industry is a $15 billion a year business. As more and more people face hard economic times, or simply make the transition toward less-costly living, the thought of saving “in the end” makes sense. It’s estimated a traditional funeral in the U.S. costs in the neighborhood of $6,500, that according to the National Funeral Directors Association. A green burial can be as inexpensive as $1,500 to $4,500 depending on location, services, and regional cost trends.
Some states require a vault but not a casket. Others require a casket but not a vault. Nearly every state allows for burial on private property with the only stipulation being a minimum of acres owned and completion of the necessary paperwork to document location and burial specifics.
Whether for environmental, financial, peace of mind, or any other reason, it pays to look at end-of-life alternatives.
Without getting too morbid about it, here’s a list of things to consider:
Is it necessary? No. Embalming is a process done to help slow decomposition and make a body more presentable for public viewing. According to Jon Cozean, a third-generation funeral director in Farmington, Missouri, and past-president of the Missouri Funeral Directors Association, industry standards require that a body buried without the process of embalming be put in the ground within about 24 hours.
Oftentimes friends or relatives must make plans and travel long distances to attend a funeral. Keeping the body in an acceptable condition for viewing once they arrive has driven the trend toward embalming in America. The process could be considered an unneeded cost, taboo, or even spiritually unethical. Cozean says a body can be cooled (refrigerated) or processed with new bio-friendly embalming fluids and be held for longer periods of time prior to burial. Doing so would allow family members travel time to arrive for a funeral service.
For the family that chooses to go green with the burial of a loved one but money is not a major concern, many funeral homes are now offering web-based real-time video streaming of funeral services. For a relatively low cost—sometimes a free service provided by the funeral home—family members can log onto a secure password-protected website and watch the funeral proceedings from anywhere. This would save on the cost and complication of travel expenses and arrangement, and allow for a quicker burial of the body—eliminating the need for costly embalming.
While embalming is obviously not going to cause a health risk for the deceased, studies have shown that it can create a health concern for those who deal with it on a daily basis. The National Cancer Institute released a study in late 2009 which showed funeral directors have a “much higher incidence” of myeloid leukemia. The risk is linked to the carcinogen chemical formaldehyde used in the embalming process.
Ironically, non-chemical embalming is really the norm and not the exception. The vast majority of nations preserve their corpses without chemicals, with Canada, the United States, and a half-dozen others being the exceptions.
Cremation has long been the main alternative to entombment in the U.S. Admittedly the process reduces the body to a small container of ashes, and modern technology has resulted in “scrubbers” and other steps to keep resulting emissions out of the air.
A thorough Internet search showed the average cost of cremation alone, with no casket or service, to be about $1,000. Add a visitation and service and the price rises to about $3,000 on average. That’s compared to the $7,000 to $10,000 average cost of a full range of services with a casket and vault burial. The cost of a burial plot varies widely based on location.
While an urn of ashes to be spread in a meaningful location or placed on a mantle is less costly than burial, new trends have resulted in a variety of products which make even cremation more varied. Family members can now purchase wearable jewelry which contains a small opening in which a few ashes or hair fibers can be implanted as a keepsake.
In keeping with offering other alternatives despite costs, if leaving a small carbon footprint is important to you but money is not a limitation, consider having your remains turned into a diamond. That’s right, a diamond that a loved one can have mounted on a ring or necklace and keep you with them throughout their lifetime.
A company called LifeGem is offering a service where for $2,999 to $19,999 (based on clarity, cut, and color) you can have your remains reduced to a high-quality diamond made from the carbon within your body. Consider it cremation on steroids. LifeGem claims that the resulting remains after their process is “a certified, high-quality diamond created from the carbon of your loved one as a memorial to their unique life, or as a symbol of your personal and precious bond with another.
“LifeGem diamonds are molecularly identical to natural diamonds found at any high-end jeweler. To qualify as diamonds, they must have the exact same brilliance, fire, and hardness (the hardest substance known) as diamonds from the earth, and of course, they do.”
Other Green Burial Alternatives
It’s often said that there are no new trends these days, but just throwbacks to some earlier time. The new “green movement” in in-ground entombment would appear to be a return to the old days of a pine box burial in a hole in the ground. Some common features include the elimination of the embalming process and burial in an all-wooden casket lined with bio-degradable material with the body dressed in bio-degradable clothing.
It seems the vast majority of cemeteries located in municipalities require the use of a vault. Rural cemeteries usually offer the option of burial in a casket without a vault. But for the hardcore eco-minded there is a growing popularity for your body spending the rest of eternity resting in an “environmentally-friendly” cemetery.
Green cemeteries are governed by the Green Burial Council, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The organization claims to be the controlling body to assure uniformity and adherence to ethics in the fairly new industry of green burial. One example of a “green cemetery” has cropped up near Columbia, Missouri. Created by two entrepreneurs, Bill Goddard and Chuck Worstell, the new venture is called Pushing Up Daisies, and offers burial plots in their Green Acres cemetery ranging from about $500 to $1,000 depending on the say of service.
In an interview with a local newspaper, Goddard likened a traditional U.S. burial to an unthinkable waste of money. “Imagine buying a brand new car. You spend thousands of dollars, buy the nicest one in the lot, look at it for three days and then bury it,” he told the reporter.
Keep in mind you don’t have to be buried in a “green cemetery” just because you choose to save money on the process and forego a fancy casket or vault. Many cemeteries will allow cost-saving variations of a green burial. Choosing to be placed in a green cemetery only assures you will be surrounded by folks who were like-minded back on the day.
Just recently, a distant relative passed away and had left instructions to bury him at a minimal cost. The immediate family discussed the matter and made some compromises they could live with during the days that followed. The cemetery required a vault but not necessarily a casket. Instead, he was prepared for viewing in a casket rented from the funeral home. Once the service was over, his body was wrapped in a family heirloom blanket, placed in a body bag, and put in the vault.
Another alternative to consider is yet another throwback to an earlier time… a home funeral. According to experts in the funeral business, “A family can facilitate a home funeral in almost every state. It wasn’t so many years ago that preparing a body and holding a wake and funeral in the home was the accepted practice. Funeral homes originated from self-proclaimed funeral directors who would handle the necessary steps in their own home for other folks who were not comfortable with dealing with the deceased for whatever reason. Most old-timers still recall the house in town which served as a part-time funeral parlor (and the rest of the time was simply home for the funeral director’s family).
The last option to consider is home burial as an alternative to a cemetery. Private land burial is allowed in most counties in the U.S., but many require a minimum number of acres and have “distance from a municipality” requirements that must be adhered to. Generally, a family burial plot or cemetery must be registered with the county government prior to being used. The “declaration” of use should be accompanied by a plat mat showing the exact location of the burial place.
When you get right down to it, nature is the ultimate recycler. Choosing a green burial, or green aspects in a burial, only enhances the job nature does already… and can also ease the financial burden for loved ones.