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Americans seek green burial and green funeral options

More Americans seek green funeral and green burial options, according to cemetery operators interviewed in a recent article in The Washington Post.  These more-natural end-of-life options typically involves the body placed in an eco-friendly container and without the body being embalmed. The trend toward green funerals and green burials is growing for a couple main reasons: they are better for the environment and they can be less expensive than traditional funerals.

Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium was the first funeral home in New Hampshire approved by the Green Burial Council (GBC) to offer a green burial package. And it remains the only one. For these arrangements, formaldehyde-based embalming is prohibited as is the use of metal or hardwood caskets. Loved ones can be buried in a green cemetery, conventional cemetery or on private property.

There are more than 22,000 traditional cemeteries scattered across the United States, but the Green Burial Council recognizes only 72 green cemeteries, according to The Washington Post. This can pose a challenge for the green funeral movement as some state and local make green burials harder.

“What is important to people around burial is having a sense of place, right? We’re trying to encourage as many green spaces as we can around the country in order for people to have that, something close enough to them,” said Lee Webster, President of the GBC. Here is a link to all New Hampshire green burial cemeteries as well as those in the US.

The organization designates three types of grounds where green burials take place:

  • Certified Hybrid Cemeteries: This is a conventional cemetery that offers the essential aspects of natural burial, either throughout the cemetery or in a designated section. GBC-certified hybrid cemeteries don’t require vaults and must allow for any kind of eco-friendly biodegradable burial containers, such as shrouds and soft wood caskets. There are more than 42 certified hybrid locations in the U.S., including Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.
  • Certified Natural Burial Grounds: This is a cemetery exclusively for sustainable practices/protocols that conserve energy and minimize waste. They do not allow the use of toxic chemicals, any part of a vault (lid, slab or partitioned liner), markers made of non-native stone, and burial containers not made from natural/plant derived materials. There are 23 in the United States, with six locations in New York.
  • Conservation Burial Grounds: Conservation burial goes a step further to commit burial fees to pay for land acquisition, protection, restoration and management. This is a type of natural cemetery that is established in partnership with a conservation organization. It  includes a conservation management plan that upholds best practices and provides perpetual protection of the land according to a conservation easement or deed restriction. The GBC recognizes seven locations, none of them in New England.

Green burial proponents aim to lower the environmental impact of traditional funeral practices each year. These impacts are:

  • Caskets, made of  over 30 million feet of hardwood, 90,272 tons of steel and 2,700 tons of copper/bronze.
  • Vaults, made of over 14,000 tons of steel and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete.
  • Preparing the body for burial uses over 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid.

While getting buried in a GBC-certified cemetery can cost more than a traditional cemetery, there are also cost savings with green burials and green funerals, as you aren’t paying to be embalmed or buried in a traditional casket.

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