Do You Recycle?

Green burials provide an ecologically sound exit strategy.

Megan Mullsteff

Forget the bunting. Forget your favorite dress. Heck, you can even forgo the lipstick. You’ll only be in the ground as long as it takes for your body to become the ultimate recyclable material, now that green burials are a safe, socially acceptable alternative to a frilly send-off.

A green burial—one that doesn’t inhibit decomposition—raises the bar for the ecologically conscious, who now have the option of covering themselves in some dirt and waiting for their bodies to be broken down and reabsorbed by the earth, leaving nary a footprint. Done. Gone. Hopefully not forgotten.

Green burials are gaining in popularity even among the ecologically challenged because they bypass the costliness of more traditional burial procedures by passing up some of the finer things in, um, life, like blooming biers or caskets as secure as Fort Knox. According to published reports, between 30 and 40 green cemeteries have sprouted in the U.S., while a decade ago, there were but a handful. And Bloomberg Businessweek reports that, in 2011, more than 300 funeral homes in 40 states were offering green burial services, up from a mere dozen in 2008.

While the tab for a conventional funeral can run as high as $10,000, green burials hover around half that amount. There’s no requirement for a vault ($1,200 and up) or a grave liner (around $1,000), according to Kathleen Zimmer, a funeral director for Hill & Wood, a Charlottesville funeral home and one of four in Virginia certified by the Green Burial Council to perform green burials. Caskets and embalming are other major costs. If you don’t mind being laid to rest in the likes of a cake box, for instance, you can pay well under $100 for a cardboard casket. That costly embalming process that allows distant loved ones time to arrive for one last look? Dry ice or a cooler will keep you recognizable for three to four days. (Really.) And those pricey headstones? Green cemeteries limit grave markers to native fieldstones, shrubs or trees. (Virginia’s only Green Burial Council-approved cemetery, Duck Run Cemetery in Penn Laird, allows only fieldstones.) Primitive, you say? Au contraire. Some green cemeteries use GPS coordinates to locate resting places.

So before you set up that big-ticket burial account, consider going green. Then put away your checkbook, and stop worrying about how you will look for the viewing. Trust me. You won’t care.

GreenBurialCouncil.org

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