A small network of cemeteries across the country are looking to shake up American burial practices and make them eco-friendly by offering “green burials, says Isabella Jibilian writing for Business Insider:
Cindy Barath is the steward of a 32-acre property in the hills of Mill Valley, California, and all the bodies that come with it.
She spends her days planning ceremonies, receiving the bereaved, and caring for the dead. She’s honest at dinner parties about her job, and when people are surprised to hear that she personally dresses the corpses, she tells them, “Well, they don’t dress themselves.”
I met Cindy Barath on a cool October morning. I was a graduate student hoping to write an article about rocketing property prices putting pressure on the cost of a grave. My tentative headline was: “The cost of living is rising. Is the cost of dying, too?”
I arrived at Fernwood Cemetery looking for a story about real estate. But I found something different, and in my opinion, more interesting: a small movement looking to shake up American burial practices and make them environmentally friendly.
In a traditional American burial, a body is embalmed, then placed in a coffin and laid to rest in a concrete-lined grave. The custom is resource intensive. Each year, it uses 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid, 20 million board feet of hardwood, and 1.6 million tons of concrete, according to the Green Burial Council.
The “green burial” movement looks to change that.
- A small network of cemeteries across the country are looking to shake up American burial practices and make them eco-friendly by offering “green burials.”
- Green burial rejects cremation, embalming, and concrete-lined graves to reduce the carbon footprint of death.
- A national survey found that over half of respondents were interested in exploring green funeral options because of potential environmental and cost-saving benefits.
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The movement is still in its early days. There are at least 287 cemeteries in the US and Canada that offer green burial services, according to New Hampshire Funeral Resources. And at some of those cemeteries, like Wooster Cemetery in Connecticut, traditional burials vastly outnumber their green counterparts.
The cadre is small, but Ed Bixby, president of the Green Burial Council, which certifies green cemeteries, is hopeful. A national survey found that over half of respondents were interested in exploring green funeral options because of potential environmental and cost-saving benefits.
And Bixby says that end-of-life customs are more changeable than they seem.
Take cremation, for example. In 1975, only 6% of Americans chose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America. Traditional burial with embalming was standard.
Funeral directors considered cremation to be no more than “a flash in the pan,” said Bixby.
But it wasn’t. Cremation was a fraction of the price of traditional burial, and it was adopted widely.
Today, cremation is king. More than half of all Americans choose cremation, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. It surpassed traditional burial as the most popular end-of-life solution back in 2015.
Direct cremation, which forgoes a viewing or other ceremony, can cost as little as $US750. But since green burial is less expensive than traditional burial, Bixby believes it could gain traction as the “official third option.”
Traditional burials, with a vault, cost a median of $US9,135 in 2019, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. By forgoing embalming ($US750), a cement vault ($US1495), and opting for a simple shroud or pine box over a wood casket ($US3,000), or metal burial casket ($US2,500), those choosing green burial can save thousands.