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A Green Burial: Minimizing Environmental Impact

Part of my role as a primary care provider is to discuss with clients their wishes for their final days. We talk about their priorities, what they consider a life worth living, what sort of life-saving and life-sustaining measures they want or would not want, and who they want participating in those decisions if they are unable. More recently we have started to discuss alternative options for #burial and #funerals. My clients devote so much of their lives to eating clean, avoiding #toxins, and being good stewards of the earth that being pumped full of chemicals after death and then buried in a box that forever alters use of the land doesn't seem to honor the way they chose to live their lives.

Environmental Stewardship Need Not Stop at the End of Life

Many have begun viewing their final wishes through a green lens, taking the opportunity to help protect the #environment when they pass away. This natural approach to funerals has led to an increase in green burial cemeteries, green burial caskets, and even green funeral ceremonies like a tree burial. Interestingly, a 2018 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association found that more than half of respondents (53.8 percent) expressed their intent for green memorialization options.

A green burial is designed to have minimal environmental impact and conserve natural resources. Simplicity and #sustainability is prioritized. Natural burials mean the body is not cremated or prepared with chemicals and it is not buried in a concrete or metal vault. Even clothing made from natural materials is utilized, cotton, wool, or bamboo. Instead, the body may be placed in a biodegradable container and interred in a gravesite to decompose fully and return to nature. There are natural chemical-free embalming oils that can be used instead of harsh environmental chemicals and these essential oils degrade without leaving a trace in the soil.

There is nothing new or revolutionary about green or natural burials. Most all burials have been performed this way through time, and many traditions still call for it. The reasons one may choose a natural burial certainly is a personal decision, but there are a few motivations. These burials are cheaper than traditional burials because you don't need to purchase a traditional casket. They have less of an impact on the environment because of the materials used. Others feel a special connection with nature, so this approach allows them to return to earth naturally after their life here on Earth is complete.

Your Final Resting Place

Do you want to be buried in a set location that your friends and family can visit? Do you want to be cremated and have your ashes scattered? Do you want to have a traditional burial, but have it performed by a green funeral home or cemetery? Do you want to naturally decompose and return to the earth? There are so many options today and so much confusion in those final days, particularly when they come very unexpectedly, that it is helpful to write down your wishes. Include where you'd like the burial to take place, such as a mortuary that is certified to perform green services. You may want to detail passages read, flowers used, and even music. One can opt for biodegradable coffins and organic or non-toxic embalming fluid and whether they want to be viewed beforehand or not.

If the idea of becoming one with nature is appealing to you, there are a wide variety of unique options you may consider. Capsula Mundi is an Italian concept that encapsulates the body in an egg-shape organic container to feed a tree that's planted above it.

Another option is to utilize a company, Eternal Reefs, that uses cremated ashes to create an artificial reef ball that is added to a living coral reef, which helps restore marine habitats by attracting fish and other organisms.

Celetis Memorial Spaceflights is yet another option which will send your remains into space. Another option is turning your dust to diamonds with LifeGem.

Natural Burial Sites

Restoration of poor soil and long-term use of the land is preserved with a natural burial. Upright monuments are often not permitted, so individual graves are identified with a marker flush with the ground at the head of the body. These markers may be a natural rock or a plaque, although they are not typically set using concrete. Some sites have no markers what-so-ever, instead graves are marked by GPS. To preserve the pristine natural landscape - leave no mark - and to protect natural plants and wildlife, most green cemeteries limit personal plantings and memorial decorations like plotted flowers, wreathes, flags, chimes, and balloons. Other ceremonies however, allow plants to grow right on top of the burial site. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are avoided to encourage native habitats.

Hybrid ceremonies are another option, blending both a conventional cemetery that offers the essential aspects of natural burial, either throughout the cemetery or in a designated section. They earn a certification that does not require them to use vaults. This will allow you to use any eco-friendly, biodegradable burial container such as a shroud or a soft wood casket.

If this option appeals to you, you will need to search for specific green funeral homes or natural cemeteries that are certified to perform burials this way, and you may need special permission from your state or county to be buried naturally. Some states allow for burials on private land, but this differs from state to state. As I am aware, there are no laws prohibiting a green or natural burial, but you do need to be familiar with federal regulations and individual state laws for where a person can be naturally buried. No state law requires the use of a casket for burial. A person can be directly interred in the earth, in a shroud, or in a vault without a casket, although funeral homes and cemeteries may have their own rules regarding casket use.

All states except for Arkansas allow burial on private property, although some states require you to designate a piece of land as a family cemetery that is limited to family members only. Plus, each municipality has its own zoning requirements, so be sure to check with yours and obtain the required permits.

Indiana does have a number of options for green burial, including Floral Park in Indianapolis, Hamilton Memorial Park in Westfield, Memorial Park in Indianapolis, Washington Park East and North in Indianapolis, West Ridge Park Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Making Plans for a Natural Burial

If this truly speaks to you and you'd like to plan ahead for your green burial, consider putting this in writing. Add it to your medical chart specifying your wishes in those final days.

As you prepare for your burial, set your budget. Research burial sites in your area which will help you determine options and price ranges. Decide your ceremony preferences. Determine your burial preferences whether organic or non-toxic embalming fluid, cremation, or other unique memorial ideas. Do you prefer a public burial ground or a burial on private property? Secure your plot by paying the cemetery or getting permission from the landowner. Arrange an eco-friendly burial container such as a shroud, soft wood casket, wicker, willow, sea-grass, bamboo, paper or a cardboard box. Convey your wishes to your loved ones and set down your final arrangements in writing.

Considering the Financial Investment

Costs can vary. For example, natural burial plots are typically larger so this may increase cost. Generally, these costs range from $1K to $4K including plot, fees for opening and closing the grave, a plot marker, and a one time endowment to a perpetual care fund to maintain the property as a natural burial site. This fee does not include the funeral or memorial service or any processing or transportation of the body. The cost for a gravesite can range from $200 to $1K for cremated remains and scattering ashes can cost $200 to $300. A biodegradable urn may cost $60 to $230. Keep in mind these charges do not include the cost of the cremation process itself, which is typically between $1K and $2.5K and generally handled by the funeral home, mortuary, or crematory.

If you provide your own casket, you could save money. Generally laws are in place that require funeral homes to accept any appropriate burial container without assessing an additional fee. Earth-friendly caskets provided by funeral homes may be unnecessary and add to the final bill. Green burials give you the freedom to decline unnecessary services and merchandise which can be easier on your budget. The cost of a headstone is typically eliminated. However, you may still need to plan ahead financially, as even a green burial can cost as much as $5K even with a simple pine casket.

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