Good for Families AND the Environment
Professor David Terrell
Warner Pacific College
July 28, 2010
Good for Families AND the Environment
As a funeral director, and where I plan to use my degree, burials play a major roll. Because of this course, I wanted to take the opportunity to see if there is anything my chosen industry can do to help the environment. In this paper, I plan to discuss the environmental benefits to natural or green burials.
“Returning to the earth in little more than a shroud is what most of humanity has done for thousands of years until the advent of the modern "deathcare" industry” (Funeral Consumers Alliance, 2007). According to Jewish burial tradition, a deceased is wrapped in a shroud, placed in a casket made exclusively of wood, and buried without an outer burial container. Mr. Ira J. Fleisher, a Jewish funeral director, says this, “We drill holes in the bottom of the casket to quicken the deterioration process and help the body go back to the earth faster. It doesn’t get much “greener” than that.” The Muslim tradition does not even use a casket. The deceased is shrouded and carefully placed directly into the grave. In both cultures, the decedent is not embalmed.
“Natural burial is a new idea—the idea that in choosing how and where we are buried, each one of us can conserve, sustain, and protect the earth… the earth from which, we came and to which we shall return” (Center for Natural Burial, n.d.). Natural burials can occur anywhere. The State of Oregon has no regulation as to where a family may bury their loved one. They do discourage burying on private property, but it is not illegal. “We have cemeteries for a reason,” says Carla Knapp of the Oregon Cemetery & Mortuary Board. “Cemeteries are sacred ground. A family does not have to worry about their loved one being dug up because the new landowner wants to put in a pool.”
“The [Green Burial Council] has developed the first certifiable standards for greener good-byes. One set is for Natural Burial Grounds, which are cemeteries required to follow ethical and ecologically sound practices” (Funeral Consumers Alliance). There are now over 300 natural burial cemeteries in the United States. Here, families can be sure their loved one will rest among the earth as they choose. “A natural burial allows you to use your funeral as a conservation tool to create, restore and protect urban green spaces” (Center for Natural Burial), therefore families must realize monuments or grave markers are not allowed so there is no permanent marker for the deceased.
There are other benefits to green burials besides the earth benefits. “A green burial reduces environmental impact and conservation easements preserve our open spaces, important not only to plants and wildlife…we find serenity when close to nature. Interment in a beautiful and natural setting honors those we love” (Green Burials, 2008). Natural burial grounds have more of park feeling with plants, trees, and bushes. They give our birds, squirrels, and deer another place to live. And many families find it more comforting to visit in a park than a cold, stark, formal cemetery with rows of headstones.
Another concern with end of life care is the embalming process. The chemicals used in the embalming process may not necessarily be very good for the environment either. Even if an embalmed body is placed in the most “green” burial container, the embalming chemicals will still contaminate the ground. The funeral industry is working on alternatives. According to Bill Hanks:
Another major issue is that of the chemicals used for body preservation. Formaldehyde free embalming will keep the toxic chemical out of the soil. A newer biodegradable embalming fluid, which is non toxic will be introduced by the Champion Company of Springfield, Ohio this summer (Hanks, B. 2009).
The Champion Company says this about its new chemical, “Based on a complex mix of essential plant-based oils in a near-anhydrous carrier, ENIGMA chemicals deliver significant chemostasis effects with good cosmetic restorative results, excellent temporary sanitation and acceptable temporary preservation” (Enigma-Champion Company, 2001-2009). These chemicals are reportedly a safe, effective, and non-toxic alternative to the traditional formaldehyde embalming fluids.
Because there are not green, or natural, burial grounds everywhere, people interested in this type of burial can consider other ways of helping the environment. Not embalming is the most obvious. Cremation is another option. The cremated remains of a deceased are completely organic material. Scattering cremated remains is completely legal and does no harm to the environment. The law in Oregon says that cremated remains can be scattered anywhere, including private property as long as you have the permission of the property owner. There are no toxins released in the air during cremation, and as long as the urn is not buried, the remains take no space in the ground.
Finally, the last benefit I see with green burials is the cost for the family. A funeral with traditional cemetery burial is a very expensive process. With a natural burial, families do not pay for embalming, costly caskets, outer burial containers, cemetery costs or marker/headstones. This could save a family literally thousands of dollars.
For the reasons I have mentioned here, I believe green burials is definitely a way for my industry to help preserve our environment. Because I am the family’s link between a death and a burial, I will consider looking further into the process so I can give my families the information they need to make better informed decisions.
Center for Natural Burial. (n.d.). Giving life back to the Earth. Retrieved July 24, 2010 from http://www.naturalburial.coop/.
Enigma-Champion Company. (2001-209). Ecobalming chemicals for the 21st century. Retrieved July 24, 2010 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1662523/even_death_is_going_green_cardboard.html?cat=7
Funeral Consumers Alliance. November 26, 2007. What is green burial? Retrieved July 24, 2010 from http://www.funerals.org/frequently-asked-questions/environment/56-green-burial
Green Burials. September 17, 2008. What are the benefits of a green cemetery over a traditional cemetery? Retrieved July 24, 2010 from http://www.greenburials.org/FAQ.htm
Hanks, Bill. April 21, 2009. Even death is going green: Cardboard coffins & biodegradable embalming fluid. Retrieved July 24, 2010 from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1662523/even_death_is_going_green_cardboard.html?cat=7