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Green Burial: Choosing a Cemetery

You’ve done your initial research, and you know for sure you want to have a green burial. But now you’re wondering if it’s possible for your wishes to be carried out because not every cemetery offers those services and accommodates natural gravesites.  

A funeral home versed in green practices — like Phaneuf Funeral Homes & Crematorium — can help you identify an appropriate location for your green burial. The Green Burial Council identifies three types of cemeteries based on the principles of green and natural burials:

  • A hybrid is a traditional cemetery that offers a green burial section, where a vault or conventional casket is not required, and instead allows for environmentally friendly burial containers or shrouds. Hybrids may also allow toxic-free embalming.
  • A natural burial ground expands the concept of green burial outside traditional cemeteries and into natural settings, such as woodlands or a meadow. Natural burial grounds explicitly prohibit the use of vaults, concrete, metal, or any burial containers not made from natural/plant-derived materials. Embalming is also banned. As for maintaining the land itself, a truly green burial site uses no artificial pesticides.
  • A conservation burial ground meets all the requirements of being a natural cemetery and also is a nature preserve. A specific portion of the land is used for burials, while the rest is designated for conservation. Funds received from green burials goes to preserve the land.

In New Hampshire, the following cemeteries offer green burial services:

Chocorua Cemetery
Hybrid Municipal Cemetery
12 Deer Hill Road
Tamworth, NH 03886
John Wheeler

Monadnock Quaker Meeting
Friends Natural Burial Ground
3 Davidson Road
Jaffrey NH 03452

Tamworth Town Cemetery
Hybrid Municipal Cemetery
Hollow Hill
Tamworth, NH 03886
John Wheeler

Richmond Cemetery
Hybrid Municipal
70 Athol Road
Richmond NH
Mark Beal, cemetery sexton

The concept of green burial in Vermont is gaining more ground, so to speak, thanks in part to a law passed in 2017 that relaxed the regulations on how deep a grave must be. Digging graves shallower than the previously required five feet allows for the natural decomposition essential for a burial to be considered green.

The following cemetery offers green burial services in Vermont:

Meeting House Hill Cemetery
580 Orchard St, Brattleboro, VT 05301
(802) 257-0712

What you need to know

Most green cemeteries require that grave markers are made of local natural materials like local stone or wood. That means you wouldn’t be allowed to use engraved polished marble or granite monuments that are so common in traditional cemeteries. While it could be argued that marble and granite are natural materials, the intent of prohibiting them over a green grave is to leave the site’s landscape relatively undisturbed. The natural element used to mark the grave may include rocks or engraved stones, trees, shrubs or flowering plants.

Compromise, if necessary

If you would rather work with a particular cemetery for your burial service that isn’t specifically “green,” either because an existing cemetery already is the resting place of family members or it’s close to home, there are some ways to make the traditional process more eco-friendly, with the help of your funeral home.

  • You can still choose not to have the body embalmed, or you may request the funeral home use a nontoxic embalming agent.
  • Use the biodegradable burial container of your choice and avoid any casket that was built with toxic construction materials. If you’d rather not use a casket at all, ask for the body to be wrapped in a shroud.
  • You can also request that the cemetery not use a concrete liner to house the casket. A concrete vault is typically used to level the surface area above the casket for convenient lawn maintenance. If the cemetery agrees to not use one, you can offer to compensate your cemetery for any labor necessary for gravesite maintenance associated with the lack of a vault. Alternatively, if the cemetery won’t concede the use of a vault, ask for a concrete grave box with an open bottom, or have holes drilled in the bottom of the vault, or invert the vault without its cover, so the body can eventually return to the earth.
  • If the impact on the environment is important to you and the deceased, choose the minimum size gravemarker allowed by the cemetery. Try to find a local monument builder who uses indigenous rather than imported stone. That will reduce the carbon footprint of production and transportation.

We have a lot more information to share on the topic of green burials. If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to download our free e-book, A 21st Century Guide to Green Burials.

If you’d like to learn more about green burials, we encourage you to download our free e-book

The Cover of The Guide to Green Burials
  • Lorna Andoscia Reply July 25, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    My husband and I are looking into having green burials when our time comes. I am wondering if it is possible to have a grave marker at such sites. After taking a long hike a few years back we came across a small family cemetery which had one grave marked with a bench. After resting on the bench I stood up and thanked the person which had provided a much needed rest. We decided that we also want a bench marker. Are there green burial sites in New Hampshire that would allow this? This is very important to us.

    • Buddy Phaneuf Reply August 16, 2019 at 6:26 pm

      Lorna, you would have to check with the individual cemetery. Some green cemeteries do not allow any formal markers or benches other than a small stone. Others are more flexible. Remember that many green cemeteries do not really maintain the grounds, cut the grass, and want to make maintain the look of natural fields and meadows so they allow minimal memorialization.

      There are lots of small family cemeteries in NH and VT that are privately owned so they can do what they want. These are not usually green cemeteries.

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